Contributor to Daniel Amen, MD

Is it better to be happy or hopeful when it comes to making good food choices?   As it turns out, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, happy people are more likely to eat candy bars, whereas hopeful people choose fruit.  When people feel hope, the study suggests, they are thinking about the future; when people feel happy they are thinking about the past or the present.

And believe it or not, this slight difference in focus affects food choices.

“Most of us are aware that we often fall victim to emotional eating, but how is it that we might choose unhealthy or healthy snacks when we’re feeling good?” write authors Karen Page Winterich (Pennsylvania State University) and Kelly L. Haws (Texas A&M University).

Previous research has shown that bad feelings result in poor food choices, as anyone who has ever drowned their sorrows in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s can confirm.  But this test was interesting because it explored a less obvious food-mood connection involving two positive emotions: happiness and hopefulness.

The results showed that happy feelings arise from thinking about the past or the present, and hope is more future-oriented.  The subjects who ate the least amount of M & M’s were feeling both positive (instead of negative) and hopeful (anticipating something good).

“So, the next time you’re feeling well, don’t focus too much on all the good things in the past. Instead, keep that positive glow and focus on your future, especially all the good things you imagine to come. Your waistline will thank you!” the authors conclude.

One of the signs of a healthy brain, and also of longevity, is that it not only anticipates a good future, it also prepares for it and thinks about how to make tomorrow and the coming years even better.  Stay hopeful!