How To Boost Happy Hormones Naturally

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There shouldn’t be one person in the world who doesn’t want to be happy. However, as hard as we may try, happiness doesn’t always come naturally, and sometimes, given the challenges of life, a genetic predisposition to depression, and other struggles, we will have to work at trying to be happy.

Some people have heard that there is a hormone that makes you happy. 

In fact, research has demonstrated that there are several natural “happy hormones” that increase feelings of happiness and well-being.

Even better, these “happy hormones,” also called feel good hormones or happiness chemicals, can be boosted naturally by certain activities.

In this article, we will discuss natural happiness hormones the body produces and how to stimulate the production of happy hormones to feel your best without needing to seek pleasure through alcohol, sugar, or other unhealthy vices.

We will cover: 

  • What Is the Happy Hormone?
  • How to Naturally Boost Happiness Hormones

Let’s get started!

A person smiling outside.

What Is the Happy Hormone?

What is a happy hormone? Before we get into the specific happiness hormones, it’s helpful to define a happiness hormone at the most basic level.

A hormone is a chemical messenger produced by the endocrine system in the body that elicits some sort of physiological or psychological response.

For example, testosterone is a hormone responsible for numerous functions in both men and women, such as producing secondary sex characteristics in males, such as a deeper voice, body hair, and increased libido.

Insulin is a hormone that is used by the pancreas and helps stimulate the uptake of blood glucose by body cells, among other functions.

A “happiness hormone” is one that naturally induces feelings of pleasure and well-being.

Sounds good, right?

A person smiling with hands raised in air.

With that in mind, everyone should want to know the magic bullet or the hormone that makes you happy.

After all, if we can increase the production of this happy hormone, we can conceivably live with more pleasure and experience less emotional pain.

There are actually four primary happy hormones: dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin. 

Each of these feel good hormones functions slightly differently, but often in conjunction with one another, though certain activities will boost the secretion of one of the happy hormones more than the others.

How to Naturally Boost Happiness Hormones

Let’s look at each of the four happiness hormones and how to naturally increase happy hormones.

#1: Dopamine

The happy hormone dopamine is primarily associated with driving motivation and being produced during “reward.”

Dopamine helps instill the desire to achieve an exciting or important goal and is produced as you set your sights on this goal and start making strides toward achieving it. 

Additionally, dopamine is produced in abundance when you reach that goal, which is why it feels so good to accomplish anything from small daily tasks to major milestones and achievements.

On the other hand, if you have low levels of dopamine, your motivation may suffer, and you will not feel particularly compelled to push yourself, make plans towards future achievements, and may feel little reward when said achievements are conquered.

As you approach the achievement of a goal, dopamine production surges, and you start to feel even more motivated and excited.

A person sitting on a couch smiling.

The expectation of a reward is ultimately what drives a boost in dopamine.

In the animal kingdom, when a predator is hunting down its prey, its body is filled with a rush of dopamine in anticipation of slaying the animal and securing a good meal.

In humans, seeking food-based rewards can elicit a similar dopamine response.

Studies suggest that certain foods are prone to bigger dopamine production, which is why we may not only enjoy these foods more when we are actually eating them but may also come to biochemically crave them in order to replicate that feel-good rush we previously experienced with the food.

The primary culprit here is carbohydrates, most notably sugar, which some evidence suggests is as powerful of a dopamine trigger as drugs like cocaine.

Notably, levels of dopamine are often low in people who suffer from depression.

A person smiling.

How to Boost Dopamine

As you may surmise, there are some unhealthy habits that can boost dopamine, such as drugs, eating sugar, and drinking caffeine.

The good news is that you can also increase this happiness hormone without relying on addictive substances or unhealthy foods.

Setting your sights on new and exciting goals and taking demonstrable small steps towards achieving your goals every day will boost dopamine production.

Most importantly, the dopamine production pathway will become strengthened through repetition. 

In other words, make sure that you are always striving towards at least one goal and being mindful to recognize the steps you are taking towards achieving it.

Think creatively about your goals. You can set fitness goals, weight loss goals, career goals, financial goals, relationship goals, goals in your hobby, etc. 

Try to set short-, medium-, and long-term goals so that there is some amount of reward and achievement taking place at all times, as well as the continual drive toward something big and exciting as the ultimate “end prize.“

Two people laughing together.

#2: Serotonin

Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter (chemical messenger in the brain) that is responsible for numerous functions, including aspects of digestion, sleep, and bone health, but as a feel-good hormone, serotonin also plays a major role in your mood by reducing depression and anxiety.

Low levels of serotonin are linked to increasing the risk of depression and anxiety.

For this reason, one of the major classes of antidepressants used to treat depression and anxiety is SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).

These drugs help ensure that if you have naturally low levels of serotonin, more of the limited amount of serotonin your body does produce stays in circulation so that you can experience the benefits of relatively higher serotonin levels.

How to Boost Serotonin

One of the things that stimulates the production of serotonin is confidence.

A person happy at work, smiling and raising their arms in celebration.

Animal scientists suggest that monkeys compete with one another and try to “one up” their other buddies because it boosts and stimulates their serotonin. 

The human brain works the same way, so anything you can do to boost your confidence, earn respect and esteem, or get recognized by others in a meaningful way that makes you feel good about yourself is a natural way to boost this happiness hormone.

Building self-confidence looks different to different people.

Some people become more confident by getting in shape or losing body fat because they feel prouder and more satisfied with their appearance.

Other people find increased confidence through recognition from others, like getting a raise or working in a position where you are in management or have a certain level of status and respect.

Other people feel more confident when they learn new skills and tackle seemingly difficult tasks independently.

Find things that help boost your self-confidence, and you will naturally increase this happy hormone.

Two people laughing and touching to produce oxytocin, a happy hormone.

#3: Oxytocin

Most people are more familiar with this happiness hormone being a “love hormone,” but the same feel-good feeling of being bonded to someone you care about and feeling loved in return produces feelings of pleasure and emotional well-being.

Oxytocin is produced with activities like hugging, kissing, skin-to-skin cuddles with a baby, and having sex and is the happy hormone that is responsible for bonding and trusting other humans or even your pets.

Oxytocin production is particularly high during childhood and the early postpartum period. 

It helps induce uterine contractions to deliver the baby, secretes breast milk, and helps parents bond with the new baby.

How to Boost Oxytocin

It probably comes as no surprise that the best way to naturally boost this happiness hormone is through intimate contact with another person or animal (pet cuddles count, too!).

Hugging, kissing, sex, cuddling, and even hand-holding are great ways to trigger oxytocin secretion to get flooded with this happiness hormone.

Even if you live alone and are unable to physically connect with others, you can take steps towards boosting oxytocin production by building trust and bonds with others.

Making new friendships, sending thank you notes, getting together with loved ones, and even having lunch with coworkers instead of eating alone can increase this happy hormone.

A person cuddling their dog.

#4: Endorphins

Most runners and other endurance athletes are familiar with the joys of the pain-relieving hormones known as endorphins. 

The rush of endorphins you get after finishing a tough workout or the “runner’s high” after a long run can make you feel physically and emotionally invincible.

Endorphins reduce pain and maximize pleasure by blocking pain pathways.

How to Boost Endorphins 

There are quite a few ways to boost endorphins, exercise being one of the best. Studies suggest that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts may be especially effective at boosting endorphins.

You can also increase this natural pain-relieving hormone through laughter, eating dark chocolate, and doing activities you enjoy.

If you are suffering from depression, don’t be afraid to reach out to a mental health provider to get clinical help. You don’t need to suffer alone; everyone deserves to be happy.

If you need help setting goals that excite you, let us help you with our 96 Exciting Goal Ideas For Your Next Training Cycle to get you started.

A person putting in headphones.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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