2012. Vol.3, No.9, 702-712
Published Online September 2012 in SciRes (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/psych) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/psych.2012.39107
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Happiness as Surplus or Freely Available Energy
Matthew T. Gailliot
University of Albany, Albany, USA
Received March 24th, 2012; revised May 7th, 2012; accepted June 8th, 2012
This paper presents a literature review that indicate happiness as a state of freely available or surplus
energy. Happiness is associated with good metabolism and glucose levels, fewer demands (from parenting,
work, difficult social relationships, or personal threats), and goal achievement, as well as increased ease
of processing, mental resources, social support, and monetary wealth. Each of these either provide or help
Keywords: Happiness; Emotion; Energy; Efficiency
A focus on energy could be a powerful psychological perspec-
tive. People are organisms made of metabolic energy, and life
can be viewed as a process of attaining and managing metabolic
energy. Some work indicates that evolution selected on tenden-
cies to attain increasingly larger amounts of energy (e.g., sugar,
oil) from the environment and to use that energy efficiently
(e.g., modern technology, Gilliland, 1978; Lotka, 1922; Odum,
1995). From this view, having and controlling energy should be
associated with feeling good—one is fulfilling an evolved ten-
dency—whereas lacking energy should feel bad.
The current work presents the theory that happiness is a state
of having freely available or surplus energy (i.e., when energy
availability exceeds demands). Processes that create or sustain
this surplus are concomitant with happiness. The paper pro-
vides an in-depth review of the relevant literature on happiness
and presents an experimental test of one hypothesis derived
from the theory—that displays of happiness signal that one has
expendable energy. The purpose of the review is to present a
novel theory of happiness that advances research on and under-
standing of the topic and that synthesizes and links disparate
Energy relevant to happiness can take two forms. One is bio-
logical, metabolic energy (e.g., glucose). All cells in the body
use metabolic energy. When metabolite supply exceeds demand,
there is a surplus. The theory is that people are less happy when
metabolic energy is low.
The other forms of energy relevant to happiness are second-
dary sources of metabolic energy—sources that provide or
conserve metabolic energy. These include social relationships
(e.g., friends give food to one another and facilitate effortful
coping) and technology (e.g., modern transportation conserves
mechanical energy used for walking, computers reduce meta-
bolic energy needed for memory because they preserve infor-
mation). Secondary sources of energy are posited to be associ-
ated with happiness because they increase the likelihood of
Happiness as Concomitant with Available
Energy—A Review of the Happiness Literature
Many studies link happiness with available energy. People
generally associate happiness more with energy than a lack
thereof. Energetic music (e.g., higher pitch tones, faster tempos,
ascending scales) has been rated as happier than less energetic
music (Collier & Hubbard, 2001a, 2001b). Words indicative of
happiness tend to reflect having energy to a greater extent than
words less indicative of happiness (Storm, 1996).
Happy people tend to be more energetic, excited, and zestful
than less happy people (Block & Kremen, 1996; Csikszentmi-
halyi & Hunter, 2003; Klohnen, 1996; Park & Peterson, 2006;
Peterson, Ruch, Beermann, Park, & Seligman, 2007; Ryan &
Frederick, 1997). Happiness is associated with increased acti-
vity (Csikszentmihalyi & Hunter, 2003; Veenhoven, 1988).
One study found that watching a video that induced joy (v fear
or anger) increased the number of activities in which partici-
pants wanted to engage (Fredrickson & Branigan, 2004). Men
in one study talked more to a female after having seen stimuli
that increased positive (v negative) mood (Cunningham, 1988).
Another study found that cricket players who were happy (v
less happy) displayed more energy, enthusiasm, focus, and
confidence (Totterdell, 1999).
Increased extraversion, often associated with energetic be-
havior, has strong links to happiness (Brebner, Donaldson,
Kirby, & Ward, 1995; Cheng & Furnham, 2002; Francis, 1998;
Francis, Brown, Lester, & Philipchalk, 1998; Francis & Lester,
1997; Furnham & Cheng, 1999; Hills & Argyle, 2001; Jopp &
Rott, 2006; Lu & Shih, 1997), even when making comparisons
across nations (Steel & Ones, 2002). Extraversion is associated
with increased approach, and likewise happiness has been
linked to increased engagement and sociability (Csikszentmi-
halyi & Hunter, 2003; Peterson et al., 2007).
Depression is strongly and negatively associated with happi-
ness (APA, 1994; Joseph & Lewis, 1998; Kammann & Flett,
1983; Matsubayashi et al., 1992; McGreal & Joseph, 1993). A
defining feature of depression is low energy or tiredness
(McGillivray & McCabe, 2007; Naarding et al., 2007).
Even perceptual biases suggest happiness as a state of sur-
plus energy. Participants induced into a happy (v sad) mood
perceived a hill as less steep (Riener, Stefanucci, Proffitt, &
Clore, 2003). The idea is that happy participants had sufficient
energy to ascend the hill, and so it appeared less steep.
Happiness generally has thus been linked to having available
M. T. GAILLIOT
energy, whereas low happiness (or sadness) has been linked to
low energy. This pattern is mirrored in work on primary and
secondary sources of metabolic energy.
Metabolic energy is the primary energy through the use of
which all thought and action occur. Evidence indicates that
happiness is reduced when the metabolic energy of glucose is
low or its use is impaired, whereas happiness is higher when
adequate amounts of usable glucose are available.
Bad or depressed moods are more common when glucose is
low (Barglow et al., 1984; Benton & Owens, 1993; Hepburn,
Deary, MacLeod, & Frier, 1996; Taylor & Rachman, 1988;
Wredling, Theorell, Roll, Lins, & Adamson, 1992; Yaryura-
Tobias & Neziroglu, 1975; cf. Reid & Hammersley, 1995;
Scholey & Kennedy, 2004) and among people with (v without)
diabetes, who process glucose less effectively and are prone to
experience hypoglycemia (e.g., Eren, Erdi, & Özcankaya, 2003;
Fabrykant & Pacella, 1948; Fris & Nanjundappa, 1986; Gon-
der-Frederick, Cox, Bobbitt, & Pennebaker, 1989; Lustman,
Griffith, Clouse, & Cryer, 1986; Mueller, Heninger, & Mc-
Donal, 1968; Popkin, Callies, Lentz, Colon, & Sutherland,
1988; Van Pragg & Leijnse, 1965; Wells, Golding, & Burnam,
1989; Wilson, 1951). A glucose clamp (v control device),
which reduces glucose levels, has been found to worsen mood
(Gold, MacLeod, Deary, & Frier, 1995; McCrimmon, Frier, &
Deary, 1999), as has skipping breakfast (Smith, Clarka, & Gal-
laghera, 1999). Conversely, glucose drinks (v placebos) have
been found to improve mood (Benton, Brett, & Brain, 1987;
Benton & Owens, 1993).
Research on the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
provides converging evidence. Metabolic energy use by the
ovaries increases during PMS (e.g., Aschoff & Pohl, 1970;
Bisdee & James, 1983; Bisdee, James, & Shaw, 1989; Dalton,
1999; Hessemer & Bruck, 1985; Landgren, Unden, & Diczfa-
lusy, 1980; Mayo, 1997; Solomon, Kurzer, & Calloway, 1982;
Webb, 1981, 1986), thereby reducing the likelihood of energy
surplus. A large body of evidence links conclusively PMS to
more negative mood (Bailey & Cohen, 1999; Baker, Best,
Manfredi, Demers, & Wolf, 1995; Bloch, Schmidt, & Rubinow,
1997; Dalton, 1999; Evans, Haney, Levin, Foltin, & Fischman,
1998; George, 2009; Hartlage & Arduino, 2002; Limosin,
Gorwood, & Ades, 2001; Natale & Albertazzi, 2006; Rapkin,
2003; Rubinow et al., 1986; Symonds, Gallagher, Thompson, &
Young, 2004; Zhao, Wang, Qu, & Wang 1998).
Using self-control has been found to decrease glucose in the
bloodstream (Fairclough & Houston, 2004; Gailliot et al.,
2007a; Gailliot, 2009a). Using self-control therefore might
worsen mood. Individual studies have largely failed to find
evidence that using self-control worsens mood, yet a meta-
analysis of over 600 participants found a small effect of self-
control worsening mood (Gailliot & Vohs, 2009).
If metabolic energy improves mood, then people might eat so
as to escape negative moods. Indeed, depression increases food
cravings (Dye, Warner, & Bancroft, 1995) and eating is a typi-
cal response to relieve personal distress (Tice, Baumeister,
Shmueli, & Muraven, 2006).
Physiological states, aside from glucose, related to metabolic
energy distribution might also relate to mood. Pleasant stimuli
(e.g., odors, pictures) reduced cortisol (Barak, 2006), which
functions partly to increase blood-glucose. Another study de-
monstrated that happiness (v anger or anxiety) predicted lower
blood pressure (James, Yee, Harshfield, Blank, & Pickering,
1986). Increased blood pressure can be concomitant with in-
creased metabolite distribution.
Some studies examining energy use in the brain also are con-
sistent with a link between happiness and surplus energy. Neu-
roscience evidence indicates that sadness can increase brain
energy use, whereas happiness can decrease it (Baxter et al.,
1989; George et al., 1995).
Self-control allows for emotional coping (e.g., regulating
moods so as to increase happiness, Baumeister, Bratslavsky,
Muraven, & Tice, 1998; Finkel & Campbell, 2001; Gailliot,
Schmeichel, & Baumeister, 2006; Gailliot, Schmeichel, &
Maner, 2006; Muraven & Slessareva, 2003; Muraven, Tice, &
Baumeister, 1998; Schmeichel, Demaree, Robinson, & Pu,
2005; Schmeichel, Vohs, & Baumeister, 2003; Shamosh &
Gray, 2006; Vohs, Baumeister, & Ciarocco, 2005) and is in-
trinsically tied with glucose metabolism (DeWall, Baumeister,
Gailliot, & Maner, 2008; DeWall, Gailliot, Deckman, & Bush-
man, 2009; Fairclough & Houston, 2004; Gailliot, 2008, 2009a,
2009b, 2009d, 2009e, in press; Gailliot et al., 2007; Gailliot &
Baumeister, 2007; Gailliot, Hildebrandt, Eckel, & Baumeister,
2009; Gailliot, Peruche, Plant, & Baumeister, 2009; Masicampo
& Baumeister, 2008). A survey across nations indicated that the
ability to cope is a primary determinant of happiness (Haller &
Other work further implicates self-control, and hence me-
tabolism, as linking happiness to energy. Noise impairs self-
control (Muraven & Baumeister, 2000) perhaps via metabolite
depletion (Gailliot & Baumeister, 2007). Likewise, noise pollu-
tion predicts reduced happiness (Weinhold, 2008). Others have
argued that happiness rests crucially on the regulation and con-
trol of drives, impulses, and objects (Furnham & Petrides, 2003;
Mukherjee & Basu, 2008), which is akin to self-control.
The composition of neurotransmitters can be used to test
whether happiness is associated with increased energy. The
prediction is that neurotransmitters associated with happiness
contain more useable energy than do other neurotransmitters.
Neurons fire via the use of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) de-
rived from breaking carbon-to-carbon bonds. Dopamine is
positively associated with happiness (Bressan & Crippa, 2005;
Drevets et al., 2001), and it contains more carbon than do other
neurotransmitters, such as acetylcholine, γ-Aminobutyric acid
(GABA), or glutamate (Wikipedia, 2012), thus supporting the
Demands on Metabolic Energy
That which uses more energy can be considered a demand on
metabolic energy, and that which uses more energy also re-
duces the likelihood of there being freely available or surplus
energy. Numerous studies link increased life demands, there-
fore entailing increased energy use (Fairclough & Houston,
2004), to reduced happiness. Happiness will often be associated
with low energy and high demands because these are times
when a surplus of energy is less likely.
Being a parent demands a lot of energy (e.g., obtaining
money). It also reduces happiness (Glenn & McLanahan, 1982;
Glenn & Weaver, 1978; McLanahan & Adams, 1987; Nicolson,
1999; White, Booth, & Edwards, 1986).
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 703
M. T. GAILLIOT
Work often is effortful and entails overriding intrinsic, so as
to meet extrinsic, motivations (Gordijn, Hindriks, Koomen,
Dijksterhuis, & Van Knippenberg, 2004). When work is less
demanding—such as toward the weekend (Csikszentmihalyi &
Hunter, 2003; Gallup, 2008; Mihalcea & Liu, 2006) or when
more leisure time is afforded (Cameron, 1975; Csikszentmiha-
lyi & Hunter, 2003; Easterlin, 2003; Tella & MacCulloch, 2007;
Tkach & Lyubomirsky, 2006; Yu et al., 2002)—happiness is
greater. The effort of caring for one with a disability likewise
predicts reduced happiness (Easterlin, 2003; Eriksson, Tham, &
Fugl-Meyer, 2005; Marinic & Brkljacic, 2008). Demanding
marriages reduce happiness relative to those that do not (Lu &
Shih, 1997; Orden & Bradburn, 1969; Pina & Bengston, 1993;
Rabin & Shapira-Berman, 1997; Ward, 1993), as do difficult
social relationships relative to easier ones (e.g., such as through
the conflict of worldviews, Burleson, 1994; Ortega, Whitt, &
Williams, 1988; Pickford, Signori, & Rempel, 1966; Suitor,
1987; Welsch, 2008).
Other demands have also been linked to reduced happiness.
Physical attractiveness among women, for whom good looks
especially save energy in pursuit of attracting and attaining high
quality mates, but not men has been found to predict increased
happiness (Mathes & Kahn, 1975). Homeless people (v people
who have a home) are less happy (Biswas & Diener, 2006).
Social projects that reduce living demands likewise increase
happiness (Moller & Jackson, 1997).
Happiness can be considered the opposite of experiencing
personal threat, and threat occurs when demands exceed avail-
able resources to cope (Blascovich & Tomaka, 1996; Blas-
covich & Mendes, 2000). Happiness therefore should involve
having resources or experiencing low demands. Mortality is
more threatening when metabolic energy is low (Gailliot,
2009b, in press), and mortality salience might reduce glucose
(Gailliot et al., 2007). Greater religiosity has been found to
reduce the threat, and therefore costs, of mortality salience
(Jonas & Fischer, 2006), and therefore should be associated
with an increased likelihood of surplus energy (due to reduced
costs coping with mortality). Connecting this possibility to
happiness, religion is associated with greater happiness (Cam-
eron, 1975; French & Joseph, 1999; Francis & Lester, 1997;
Lelkes, 2005; Swinyard, Kau, & Phua, 2001; cf. Lewis, Lani-
gan, Joseph, & Fockert, 1997; Lewis, Maltby, & Burkinshaw,
2000). Threat occurring from being bullied or sexually harassed
among children predict reduced happiness (Gibbs & Sinclair,
2000), as does greater social anxiety (Neto, 2001).
Some theorists have argued that happiness is reduced be-
cause life is more demanding due to our living in a world that is
radically different from the one in which our ancestors evolved
(Buss, 2000; Grinde, 2002). Hence, metabolically expensive
(Fairclough & Houston, 2004; Gailliot et al., 2007; Gailliot &
Baumeister, 2007) regulation systems are overactive (Nesse,
A goal is a metabolic demand ongoing for some time. A goal
thus can be represented as a process of metabolic energy at-
tainment and use (e.g., each time a dieter sees a piece of cake,
he or she effortfully uses self-control to avoid it, a person with
a physical fitness goal regularly expends metabolic energy
every workout). When a goal ceases or is relinquished, energy
previously committed to the goal becomes freely available,
surplus energy. Such dynamics should influence happiness.
Indeed, meeting a goal, or goals, can increase happiness
(Diener & Lucas, 2000; Haybron, 2008; Kasser & Ryan, 1993).
Hence, satisfaction with specific life domains predicts increased
happiness (Michalos, 1980). Happiness is strongly influenced
by discrepancies between what one has and wants (Michalos,
1983; Tsou & Liu, 2001), perhaps because of the extent to
which one is motivated or has formed goals to obtain more. The
goal of maximizing (v nonmaximizing)—in which people at-
tempt to choose the very best among every option—might also
reduce happiness (Schwartz et al., 2002).
Mental Resources and Processing Fluency
Biological resources—metabolic energy—often has been re-
ferred to as “mental resources” in the social sciences, though
the construct overlaps with actual metabolic energy (Gailliot et
al., 2007; Gailliot & Baumeister, 2007; Gailliot, 2009c). Find-
ings on mental resources and ease of processing are consistent
with the idea that happiness is concomitant with energy.
Happy people appear to have more mental resources than
less happy people, such that they are more creative, mindful,
and optimistic (Basso et al., 1996; Derryberry & Tucker, 1994;
Fredrickson & Branigan, 2004; Isen et al., 1987). They display
broader thought and attention and are more open to information
(Estrada et al., 1997). Happy (vs unhappy) children have been
found to delay gratification longer (Moore, Clyburn, & Under-
wood, 1976; Schwarz & Pollack, 1977). Negative moods seem
to impair self-control (Leith & Baumeister, 1996; Tice, Brat-
slavsky, & Baumeister, 2001). Positive affect has been found to
replenish self-control when it is fatigued (Tice et al., 2006).
One contradictory finding was that a happiness induction in-
creased stereotype use (Bodenhausen, Kramer, & Susser, 1994),
suggesting reduced mental resources (Devine, 1989). It could
be that happy people have more energy and mental resources,
though they might not always willingly expend their energy or
resources. Hence, when participants were held accountable for
their stereotype use, happiness did not increase stereotype use
(Bodenhausen et al., 1994).
Stimuli that take less energy to process—such as those that
are familiar—should be liked more than stimuli that take more
energy to process, consistent with the link between having
freely available energy and happiness. In support of this, stim-
uli that are easier to process and familiar are liked more than
other stimuli, and these stimuli have been found to produce less
brain activation (i.e., use less energy) (Bornstein, 1989; Ca-
cioppo & Winkielman, 2001; Desimone, Miller, Chelazzi, &
Lueschow, 1995; Haber & Hershenson, 1965; Harrison, 1977;
Jacoby & Dallas, 1981; Whittlesea, Jacoby, & Girard, 1990;
Witherspoon & Allan, 1985; Zajonc, 1968, 2001, 2002). People
also like more stimuli that are prototypical or symmetrical
(Berlyne, 1974; Halberstadt & Rhodes, 2000; Langlois &
Roggman, 1990; Martindale & Moore, 1988; Rhodes & Tre-
mewan, 1996) possibly because they are processed faster and
more efficiently (Checkosky & Whitlock, 1973; Johnstone,
1994; Palmer, 1991; Posner & Keele, 1968; Rosch & Lloyd,
1978) which should reduce energy use (Mulder, 1986). Antici-
pated (v unanticipated) information has been found to be pro-
cessed faster and hence easier, and to be more pleasant (Whit-
tlesea, 1993). Likewise, factors that facilitate the processing of
stimuli have been found to increase liking for the stimuli (Reber,
Winkielman, & Schwarz, 1998). Numbers are more easily proc-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
M. T. GAILLIOT
essed in Chinese than in English, and math tends to be better
liked among Chinese than English speakers (Gladwell, 2009).
Factors that provide energy or reduce its use (sources of se-
condary energy) also suggest a connection between happiness
and having energy. Two examples are social support and mone-
Social support can provide energy or reduce its use in several
ways. People give one another food. They also save energy in
many ways for one another, such as by helping one another,
assisting in coping with stress, or providing resources while
requiring relatively little work (e.g., parents giving clothing to
Ample evidence demonstrates that people are happier with
better social support or more social involvement (Baumeister &
Leary, 1995; Booth, 1992; Brim, 1974; Chan & Lee, 2006;
Gundelach & Kreinar, 2004; Jopp & Rott, 2006; Kehle & Bray,
2003; Lane, 1994, 2000; Lu, 1999; Lu, Shih, Lin, & Ju, 1997;
Natvig, Albrektsen, & Qvarnstrom, 2003; Neto, 2001; North,
Holahan, Moos, & Cronkite, 2008; Perneger, Hudelson, &
Bovier, 2004; Phillips, 1967; Ryuichi et al., 1999; Singh et al.,
2004; Uchida, Norasakkunkit, & Kitayama, 2004). Happiness is
positively associated with self-esteem (Baumeister, Campbell,
Krueger, & Vohs, 2003), and self-esteem reflects belongingness
(Leary & Baumeister, 2000). People report seeking social con-
tact so as to increase their happiness (Tkach & Lyubomirsky,
2006). Married people tend to be happier than unmarried people
(Cid, Ferres, & Rossi, 2008; Mookherjee, 1998; Stack & Esh-
leman, 1998). Religious institutions can serve as a source of
social support, and religious involvement predicts increased
happiness (Cameron, 1975; Francis & Lester, 1997; French &
Joseph, 1999; Lelkes, 2005; Swinyard, Kau, & Phua, 2001; cf.
Lewis, Lanigan, Joseph, & Fockert, 1997; Lewis, Maltby, &
Burkinshaw, 2000). Likewise, the end of social relationships
and death greatly reduce happiness (Ballas & Dorling, 2007;
Oswald & Powdthavee, 2008).
Money is another source of secondary energy. Money can be
used to acquire metabolic energy (e.g., buy food) and it can also
save energy (e.g., paying for a taxi rather than walking, hiring
an accountant to do one’s taxes, using air conditioning rather
than sweating in the heat). People with money can have a more
leisurely, effortless life than can those without. Money there-
fore should be associated with a greater likelihood of having
Ample research demonstrates a positive correlation between
wealth and happiness. Across both nations and individuals,
wealth predicts happiness (Biswas-Diener & Diener, 2006; Cid,
Ferres, & Rossi, 2008; Diener, Horwitz, & Emmons, 1985;
Easterlin, 1995, 2001; Gardner & Oswald, 2001; Gerdtham &
Johannesson, 2002; Hagerty & Veenhoven, 2003; Johnson &
Krueger, 2006; Mookherjee, 1998; Namazie & Sanfey, 1998;
North, Holahan, Moos, & Cronkite, 2008; Rogers & DeBoer,
2001; Saunders, 2009; Schyns, 1998; Stack & Eshleman, 1998;
Steel & Ones, 2002; Tella & MacCulloch, 2007; Tella, Mac-
Culloch, & Oswald, 2003; Tella, New, & MacCulloch, 2007;
Shin & Johnson, 1978; Veenhoven, 1991, 1995; World Bank,
1997; cf. Easterlin, 2005). Likewise, unemployment might lead
to unhappiness (Booth & Ours, 2007; Di Tella, MacCulloch, &
Oswald, 2001; Frey & Stutzer, 2000; Graham & Pettinato,
When people aspire for more than they have, however,
money might not lead to happiness (Hagerty, 2000; Stutzer,
2004; Tsou & Liu, 2001). This is consistent with the idea that
happiness is reduced with increased demands or goals—in this
case, to acquire more wealth.
An Experimental Test—Displays of Happiness
as Energetically Inefficient
If happiness is concomitant with having available or surplus
energy, then its expression may signal that one has expendable
energy. Expressions of happiness may entail reduced effi-
Past work has found that depressed individuals conserve en-
ergy in their movements—they move relatively little (Fisch,
Frey, & Hirsbrunner, 1983; Griesinger, 1876; Kraepelin, 1913).
Upon recovering from depression, people move more, more
complexly, and more rapidly. This suggests that happiness
might be negatively associated with the conservation of me-
An experimental study showed that more participants who
received a positive comment (e.g., “I like your shirt.”) from an
experimenter lifted their feet less efficiently while walking
upstairs than did participants who received a neutral comment
(i.e., “This is Hall C.”), χ2 = 2.78, p < .05 (one-tailed; see Fig-
A review of the literature on happiness and an experimental
test provided general support for the idea that happiness is a
state in which one has freely available or surplus energy. This
pattern emerged from work on a variety of topics, including
metabolism, demands (parenting, work, difficult social relation-
ships, personal threat), goals, ease of processing and liking,
Efficient Step Height
Inefficient Step Height
Number of people who exhibited either efficient or inefficient step
height as a function of having received either a compliment or neutral
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 705
M. T. GAILLIOT
mental resources, social support, and monetary wealth. The
theory brings together work across several different disciplines,
including neuroscience, endocrinology, social psychology, eco-
nomics, sociology, and biology.
The theory of happiness and energy should help explain find-
ings on happiness other than those reviewed. Happiness has
been found to predict future success (e.g., in marriage, friend-
ship, wealth, work, and health, Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener,
2005). To the extent that happiness represents having energy,
then being capable of energy-demanding activities (e.g., re-
solving difficulties with a spouse) should lead to lead to future
One seemingly inconsistent finding may be that hyperglyce-
mia (i.e., when blood-glucose levels are especially high) is not
associated with happiness, though there is ample energy in the
bloodstream. Hyperglycemia might not be linked to happiness
because it may reduce the flow of glucose to the brain.
One might conclude that people should rarely expend energy
(e.g., sit on the couch all day) because they generally seek hap-
piness. Though this can occur (e.g., passivity is increasingly
common in modern society), people clearly expend their energy
on a regular basis. Conservation might be reduced because one
must use energy to obtain energy (e.g., work 40 hours each
week to ensure an adequate food supply) and because people
have goals less clearly related to energy (e.g., reproductive
goals). Happiness is having surplus energy in the context of
other meanings and values in life.
One strength of the proposed theory is that it suggests many
novel hypotheses. All else being equal, events that provide
energy will tend to produce greater happiness than will events
that provide less energy or take away energy. People are hap-
pier if there exists the potential to use taxi rides rather than to
always walk. The inefficient acts in which happy people engage
(e.g., play behavior) might be more likely to be perceived as
pointless or wasteful to others. Happy people expend energy
more liberally, and so others might not perceive the value of
these behaviors. The relationship between happiness and energy
could be cyclical. Having energy allows one to more easily
ensure future happiness. For example, a happy person at work
might cheer up another coworker by giving flowers, increasing
the likelihood that the coworker will reward the person in the
future. Approaches to increasing happiness should include
those that free up metabolic resources or provide resources,
such as those that alleviate demands. Chronically unhappy in-
dividuals might have tendencies to overcommit themselves and
rarely experience energy surplus.
In demanding situations, people might expect happy people
to be less happy and to use their energy to help. Displays of
happiness should be perceived negatively when energy is
wasted. Factors should influence happiness partly to the extent
that they create metabolic demands. For example, an argument
that brings to mind new challenges should decrease happiness,
whereas an argument that ends a demanding and draining rela-
tionship should reduce happiness to a lesser extent or even in-
crease happiness. Diabetes and problems with glucose are
linked to being less happy (see above). Other metabolic disor-
ders might therefore be related to happiness. Factors that might
increase the use of glucose include high processing loads, no-
velty, time pressure, and multitasking (Mulder, 1986). These
same factors might reduce happiness. Happiness might arise
from having too much information to process, being over-
whelmed with novelty or experiencing too much change, lack-
ing sufficient time to complete goals, or trying to do too much.
Happiness should be higher across the lifespan during times
when people have more energy. Some studies have found that
younger people tend to be happier than older people (Chang,
2007; Easterlin, 2006; Gerdtham & Johannesson, 2002; Hola-
han, Holahan, Velasquez, & North, 2008; Selim, 2008; cf.
Fugl-Meyer, Branholm, & Fugl-Meyer, 1991), and they also
tend to have more (primary) energy. Whether energy is avail-
able for use might be key in determining happiness. Fat people
have more stored energy than thin people, yet they might not be
happier partly because good physical fitness enhances the dis-
tribution of metabolites throughout the body.
Happiness might increase from terminating goals and not
only from achieving them. Abandoning a failed goal, for in-
stance, might eventually increase happiness because one is able
to use energy that otherwise would have been used toward goal
Energy is concomitant with happiness. Happy people may
signal their happiness by being less energetically efficient or
expending more energy than needed. The happy person sings in
the shower. Typical smiles may use more energy than typical
frowns. And, as demonstrated—happiness puts an inefficient
“pep in one’s step”.
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