Eudaimonic well-being-a sense of purpose, meaning, and engagement with life-is protective against psychopathology and predicts physical health, including lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Although it has been suggested that the ability to engage the neural circuitry of reward may promote well-being and mediate the relationship between well-being and health, this hypothesis has remained untested. To test this hypothesis, we had participants view positive, neutral, and negative images while fMRI data were collected. Individuals with sustained activity in the striatum and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to positive stimuli over the course of the scan session reported greater well-being and had lower cortisol output. This suggests that sustained engagement of reward circuitry in response to positive events underlies well-being and adaptive regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
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