20 Foods That Make You Happiest, According To Research

How to eat what's right (and happiest!) for you.

girl eating kebab from food truck Gabo0910 / Shutterstock

We all know food can make us happy. The connection between food and comfort is primal (hence the term "comfort foods.") It goes back to when we were infants and a breast or a bottle made everything better. As adults, who doesn’t love pizza and beer while binge-watching Netflix on a cold winter night? Who hasn’t downed a pint of Ben and Jerry’s after a break-up or a couple of burgers at a tailgate party?


The bad news is that these foods only make you feel happy temporarily. The good news is that there are healthy foods that also double as happy foods by increasing your overall happiness.  

Here’s a tiny bit of science: Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that your body uses to create proteins, vitamins, and enzymes. It also boosts your body’s creation of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter — or chemical messenger — that enhances your mood and happiness, eases anxiety, improves your memory, decreases cravings for sweet and starchy foods, and helps you sleep. Foods high in tryptophan and serotonin boost your happiness. So, how do you increase those happiness chemicals? Enjoy these healthy, happy food suggestions based on your food personality type.


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Here are foods that make you happiest, according to research:

1. The fanatic foodie

The world is your oyster. You love to try new foods, and today’s culinary geniuses are only too happy to oblige. Maybe it’s tuna or shellfish, like oysters, lobster, scallops, shrimp, or octopus at Mama's Fish House in Maui or a power lunch at Le Bernardin in New York. You can pair these with tryptophan and serotonin-boosting sides of plantains, dates, avocado, watercress salad, or asparagus. Extra points if the sauces and sides include turmeric, almonds, or pistachios, which also can boost your happiness.

Perhaps you like wild boar, quail, elk, duck, caribou, or pheasant at Sammy’s Wild Game Grill in Houston, or The Gun Barrel Steak and Game House in Jackson Hole. Order up a side of Brussels sprouts, black beans, or cauliflower. Cross your fingers that the recipe includes pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, sour cherries, or cheeses, like gruyere, fontina, or Tilsit. These restaurants fill your need for adventurous, healthy food while boosting your happiness on a chemical level at the same time.

Photo: monicore/Pexels


2. The meat and potatoes lover

You like to keep it simple by sticking to the basics. No shame in that! The key here is meat and potatoes. Literally. Do you like lean beef, chicken, pork, or turkey? How about halibut or cod? Add some yams, sweet potatoes, or white potatoes. Make a sauce with garlic, mushrooms, and onions.

Pair your main course with a green salad that has tomatoes and cucumber. Make a side dish with broccoli, corn, navy beans, or kidney beans. Sprinkle on some gouda, parmesan, Romano, or mozzarella cheese. After dinner, enjoy some coffee and a dessert made with blueberries, strawberries, oranges, watermelon, or raisins. If you eat out, it’s Outback Steakhouse or Ruth's Chris every time. A meat and potatoes dinner fills your need for comfort food while boosting your happiness, too.

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3. The health nut

Your body is your temple and your menu is strictly vegetarian, vegan, organic, or raw food. You make an annual pilgrimage to The Moosewood Restaurant in Ithica, NY, which launched the vegetarian movement in America in 1973. You keep the Happy Cow app updated on your phone when you travel.




You avoid meat in favor of tofu, tempeh, soybeans, and lentils. Maybe you eat some wild-caught salmon on special occasions. Your side dishes include kale, spinach, and turnip or collard greens — all of which are scientifically proven to have happiness-related benefits.

You’re all about whole grains, oats, wheat germ, brewer yeast, millet, barley, buckwheat, brown rice, quinoa, and rice bran. You sprinkle seeds — like sesame, chia, flax, and sunflower — liberally on your food. Maybe you’ve experimented with spirulina. You drink green tea and soy milk, and your dessert choice is popcorn with some sea salt. Eating honors your commitment to natural foods, while boosting your happiness. Now that's a win-win.

4. The old-world traditionalist

You find comfort in the food at your grandma’s table. If you eat out, it doesn’t get any better than Cracker Barrel. You love a good country diner. Liver, herring, and sardines bring back fond memories. You seek out side dishes, like lima beans, beets, carrots, celery sticks, squash, cabbage, and mustard greens. Every meal includes cottage cheese, cantaloupe, or honeydew. A good sauce uses a milk or buttermilk roux with some garlic and flavored with Swiss or cheddar cheese.


There’s nothing better than a peanut butter sandwich or a hard-boiled egg. Your lunchbox always has an apple, plum, or banana. Peanuts or walnuts make a great afternoon snack. Eating fills your need to reconnect with sentimental memories while boosting your happiness in the process.

RELATED: 10 Healthy Foods That Make You Happy (& Are Healthier Than A Pint Of Ice Cream)

5. The global gourmet

You seek out the unusual and go beyond Chinese, Mexican, and Italian foods. You enjoy trying hole-in-the-wall diners and would pick Coop’s Place over Commander’s Palace for blackened snapper or okra in New Orleans any day, because of its unique vibe. If it’s Asian, you want crab, seaweed, kelp, kimchi, or mung beans. If it’s Mediterranean or Middle Eastern, you seek out clams, goat, chickpeas, kefir, fenugreek, and tahini. If it’s French, it’s Lapin a La Cocotte (rabbit stew). You love dishes that incorporate grapefruit, kiwi, pineapple, yogurt, hickory nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, and cacao.


Food fills your need to learn about exotic cultures while boosting your happiness and worldly interests. Think of healthy eating as a happiness strategy. Try some healthy, happy eating and see how your life improves. Keep score. Rate your happiness level every day for two to four weeks, after incorporating more of these mood-boosting foods into your diet. 

Do you see an overall improvement? If so, keep eating happy — and maybe experiment with other happy food personalities, too! If you’re managing depression, do not stop taking your medications. But, if you see results with your happy eating experiment, show them to your doctor and explore what’s possible.

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Gretchen Martens is an author, speaker, coach, and happiness expert. Her methods draw from three decades of eclectic experience as an anthropologist, an ontological coach, an experiential educator, and an improvisational comedy performer.