Academics said a survey of 8,000 runners found they enjoyed a sense of satisfaction and achievement, with social networks such as parkrun and Strava adding a sense of community.
The vast majority of those surveyed - 89% - said running regularly has made them happier and has had a positive impact on their mental health and body image.
The runners surveyed scored 4.4 on the Oxford Happiness Scale, above the average score of 4 on the method used by scientists to measure well-being.
Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University carried out the study by interviewing 8,157 runners across the UK registered with parkrun, the nationwide weekly free 5K run, and fitness app Strava.
Dr Emmanuelle Tulle, reader in Sociology at the university, said: “Running gives you a feeling you have achieved something and a sense of tremendous satisfaction.
“It adds to a general sense of well-being, you feel good and it helps boosts your self-confidence.
“The combination of attending parkrun and being able to track your progress on Strava makes runners feel as if they are not on their own, it enables them to see the point of running.
“They are much more likely to maintain regular exercise as a result and reap the benefits.
“There is a combination of competitiveness and togetherness, which is extremely beneficial.”
The survey found 83% felt more motivated to exercise through using the Strava app while 55% said taking part in parkrun had a positive impact on their social life.
Gareth Mills, UK manager for Strava, said: “We know running is good for us physically, here we see the psychological benefits that being part of an active community can bring.”