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If I understand it correctly, levels of serotonin in the brain can indicate if a person is happy. What other physiological measures indicate happiness or well being for a humans?

I am looking for indicators which can be measured quantitatively but don't be very strictly correlated with 'happiness'. And on the flip-side is there physiological indicators that a person is/not depressed?

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Check out Wikipedia Article on serotonin. There are multiple serotonin receptors in the human brain, and mutations of those receptors are related to depression and suicide. As such, serotonin levels aren't really a metric of happiness. I would look at long term behavior as an indicator of happiness or depression –  Alex Stone Dec 24 '12 at 3:32

2 Answers 2

There are beahvioral, physiological, and psychological indicators of happiness, and on the flipside of depression, all of which are quantitative.

Levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in the brain are a physiological indicator of depression. Higher levels of serotonin are correlated with increased happiness and decreased anxiety. Dopamine also contributes to good mood, and in addition causes an increase in activity and willpower. Both serotonin and dopamine show decreased levels in depression. However, it is important not just to look at general levels of the neurotransmitter, but to also consider which parts of the brain show decreased neurotransmitter levels. Depression correlates with decreased serotonin and dopamine levels in the amygdala, thalamus, and hyppocampus. (http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/what-causes-depression.htm)

Behavioral tests of depression are used on laboratory animals. The most common tests are the forced swim test (in which scientists measure how long a mouse persists swimming in a water container before it gives up) and the tail suspension test (in which scientists measure how long a mouse struggles to free itself when suspended by its tail). (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3270071/)

In addition, self report questionnaires are designed to quantify depression in people. Some popular ones are the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI-II) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beck_Depression_Inventory) and the Beck Hopelessness scale (BHS) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beck_Hopelessness_Scale).

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Hi, thanks this was a useful post. As a secondary question: do you know if any of these indicators (or others) could be tested for after a person has died? And even when the body has degraded to a skeleton? –  Josh Feb 26 '13 at 19:53
    
I don't know of any indicators that can be used after death. Depressed people tend to have less gray matter in certain parts of the brain (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18838632, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18669941), but that could be a sign of many other mental diaseases, and wouldn't help in studying skeletons. –  Drosophila Feb 26 '13 at 20:06

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