Can food make people happy?

You're going to eat this right here in your car, aren't you?
You're going to eat this right here in your car, aren't you?
Scott Olson/Getty Images

You're driving home after a long day at work. You're in no mood to cook and you stop at a drive-through to pick up some dinner. You're so hungry you don't even make it home to eat; you just pull into a parking space and devour your cheeseburger or tacos or whatever right there in the driver's seat. Afterward, you feel a bit bloated and greasy. You might even feel guilty and disgusted with yourself.

Then, there are those other occasions when you take the time to actually make a good and healthy dinner that you enjoy and savor. After those meals, you feel full -- and pretty happy.

Doesn't it seem a bit odd that food should make us happy? After all, we eat food to sustain ourselves. From the food we eat, we derive macronutrients like proteins, fats and carbohydrates that our bodies use for fuel and other essential functions. We also get vitamins and other nutrients from food that our bodies can't process but still require. Certainly, we need food, but why would some foods make us happy when we eat them?

The science of happiness has figured out why certain foods make us happy. It turns out that some foods are made of compounds that have been shown to have an effect on our mood. Even more interesting, going without certain foods can have an opposite effect, putting us at a higher risk for depression.

Find out what science has turned up in its exploration of culinary happiness on the following pages. First up, happy foods.