Hormones are powerful chemicals that can lead to big changes in our bodies, which means that even a small amount of a hormone can have profound effects on body functions, either in a positive or negative way (National Cancer Institute).
When you do things that make you feel good, such as connecting with a friend or eating ice cream, your brain is releasing what scientists call “happy hormones.” These hormones got their nickname because of the positive feelings they produce.
These “happy hormones” are:
- Dopamine helps us feel pleasure and is involved in the brain’s reward system.
- Serotonin helps us boost our mood and regulate our sleep.
- Oxytocin is produced when we bond with others and is often called “the love hormone.”
- Endorphins are nicknamed the brain’s natural pain reliever.
These feel-good hormones promote happiness, pleasure, and positive emotions. The cool thing about these happiness hormones is that you have a say when they are released. Whether you have a good laugh with your friend or do some exercise, your brain is releasing these feel-good hormones.
How to Boost Happiness Hormones
- Eat well. Dopamine is created from tyrosine, an amino acid. Tyrosine-rich foods may boost dopamine levels in your brain and even improve memory. Some foods high in tyrosine include meat, dairy, legumes, soy, and eggs.
- Sleep. deprivation has many serious side effects and can even impact dopamine receptors. Getting enough high-quality sleep keeps your dopamine levels balanced (Korshunov, 2017), which has the potential to increase positive feelings.
- Studies. show that mediation has positive effects on dopamine. Specifically, in a study with meditation teachers, dopamine levels increase by 64% after meditating for only one hour (Kjaer et al., 2002).
- Listen to music. Music is a great addition to alone time or social activities. Listening to music increases brain activity in areas that are rich in dopamine receptors (Koelsch, 2014). Also, the brain releases dopamine when the emotional state is at the highest level (Salimpoor et al., 2011). So go and listen to your favorite song..
- Serotonin. levels significantly increase after doing any workout exercises, such as biking, dancing, or weight-lifting. Research clearly shows the antidepressant and anxiolytic effects between mood and exercise (Young, 2007).
- Get some light. When you spend at least 15 minutes outside every day, your serotonin levels significantly increase. (Sansone & Sansone, 2013).
- Eat well. Tryptophan, an amino acid, increases brain serotonin and is an effective antidepressant for mild depression. One food containing more tryptophan than other proteins is milk, so consuming milk-derivates, such as yogurt or kefir, may increase your serotonin levels (Young, 2007).
- Show affection. Considering oxytocin is “the love hormone,” physical intimacy boosts this hormone. You can hug, cuddle, kiss, or hold hands to increase oxytocin production. (Uvnas et al., 2015).
- Connect. Your oxytocin levels increase when you talk to your loved ones or even think about them. You can also give compliments to them or do small random acts of kindness, which can not only make their days better but can make yours too (Uvnas et al., 2015).
- Share. In wild chimpanzees, food-sharing increases oxytocin levels regardless of whether they were close before or not (Wittig et al., 2014). So why not cook with your friend? Cooking is a great way to bond over something delicious and a fun way to potentially increase oxytocin levels.
- Eat dark chocolate. If you’re a fan of dark chocolate, you should know that eating a piece can stimulate the release of endorphins (Nehlig, 2013).
- Laugh. Who doesn’t like a good laugh? Laughing is a good way to connect with others and destress. You can watch your favorite comedy show, go to a stand-up comedy jam, or call a friend to catch up. All these activities boost the body’s endorphins and also play a role in social bonding (Dunbar et al., 2012).
- Be active. Although moderate-intensity exercise is best for boosting endorphins, it’s not the only type of activity that has this potential. You can dance at home or go on a short hike, anything that keeps you active (Tarr et al., 2015).
Happiness hormones—dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins—are essential for your well-being. You may increase the levels of these hormones without any medication by making simple changes in your lifestyle, such as exercise, diet, and meditation. In the end, these things can make a big impact.
- Dunbar, R. I., Baron, R., Frangou, A., Pearce, E., Van Leeuwen, E. J., Stow, J., … & Van Vugt, M. (2012). Social laughter is correlated with an elevated pain threshold. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 279(1731), 1161-1167.
- Kjaer, T. W., Bertelsen, C., Piccini, P., Brooks, D., Alving, J., & Lou, H. C. (2002). Increased dopamine tone during meditation-induced change of consciousness. Cognitive Brain Research, 13(2), 255-259.
- Koelsch, S. (2014). Brain correlates of music-evoked emotions. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 15(3), 170-180.
- Nehlig, A. (2013). The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. British journal of clinical pharmacology, 75(3), 716-727.
- Salimpoor, V. N., Benovoy, M., Larcher, K., Dagher, A., & Zatorre, R. J. (2011). Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nature neuroscience, 14(2), 257-262.
- Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2013). Sunshine, serotonin, and skin: a partial explanation for seasonal patterns in psychopathology?. Innovations in clinical neuroscience, 10(7-8), 20.
- Tarr, B., Launay, J., Cohen, E., & Dunbar, R. (2015). Synchrony and exertion during dance independently raise pain threshold and encourage social bonding. Biology letters, 11(10), 20150767.
- Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Handlin, L., & Petersson, M. (2015). Self-soothing behaviors with particular reference to oxytocin release induced by non-noxious sensory stimulation. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 1529.
- Wittig, R. M., Crockford, C., Deschner, T., Langergraber, K. E., Ziegler, T. E., & Zuberbühler, K. (2014). Food sharing is linked to urinary oxytocin levels and bonding in related and unrelated wild chimpanzees. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281(1778), 20133096.
- Young, S. N. (2007). How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience: JPN, 32(6), 394.