How The Happiness Hormones Work With The Body

Updated January 6, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Hormones play a vital role in maintaining your physical and mental health. They affect natural functions like sleep patterns, sex drive, fertility, closeness with others, emotions, and more. The happiness hormones are a group of chemicals that affect the level, intensity, and type of happiness you might feel on any given day. They are produced in a variety of ways and impact the body in different manners. In this article, we’ll be exploring the various kinds of hormones that can make you happy and explain how they do so. 

Your Physical And Mental Health Can Be Intricately Connected

Different Types Of Happiness Hormones

The happiness hormones include:

  • Endorphins

  • Serotonin

  • Dopamine

  • Oxytocin 

Each is described in greater detail below. 

Endorphins

If you’ve ever had a rush of endorphins, you may have felt like all your pains went away. Endorphins, shortened from the full name "endogenous morphine,” is released when the body feels stress or pain. These feel-good chemicals are naturally obtained through exercise, sex, eating, and more. This explains why when you engage in one of these activities, you may start to feel happier, healthier, and more positive. Boosting your endorphins can be an effective and natural way to combat mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. 

Serotonin

Serotonin is another hormone that can make you feel happier and improve social interaction. Those who have depression and other mood disorders may have low serotonin levels. Ways you can improve your serotonin levels include:

  • Researchers have found that going outside can naturally improve your mental health and cognition. Heading into nature gives your skin vitamin D, and this is often attributed to helping increase serotonin levels.

  • Thinking more positively may help you increase your serotonin levels. It can take time and effort to learn how to change your thinking patterns, but those who learn how to develop a more positive mindset may be able to increase their serotonin levels. You might be able to think happier thoughts by writing in a gratitude journal or working with a therapist. 

  • Carbs may help give you serotonin. Milk, corn, and anything else with tryptophan in it can be effective contenders to help increase your serotonin levels.

  • Aerobic, or low-intensity workouts, can produce serotonin. If you need a boost in your serotonin levels, consider hiking, running, swimming, biking, and more. 

Dopamine

Dopamine is known as the hormone of pleasure, and it can be released for a variety of reasons. For example, setting goals and accomplishing them may cause your brain to release dopamine in higher amounts. Additionally, it may give you the motivation you need to reach those milestones. Other activities like sex, shopping, working out, or experiencing something new can also increase the levels of dopamine in your brain. 

While dopamine may be important for the brain and body, it can also be one of the reasons that addictions form. When you first experience a new drug, you might feel stimulated and happy. However, as you try to recreate this rush of positive feelings, you may then develop an addiction. Other addictions, like gambling, can work in similar ways. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) operates a free helpline to help people through common mental health conditions, including substance use disorders. It can also help you navigate treatment options. Call 1-800-622-4357 to get connected. 

Oxytocin

Oxytocin is known as the hormone of love. When you hug a person that you love, have sex with someone, or give birth to a child, there is usually a production of oxytocin. This chemical contributes to the affectionate feelings you have for others and is involved in love and friendship alike. Exercise can boost oxytocin within the brain and body, as can cuddling, making love, getting or giving a massage, and more. Feeling connected to the people around you can be one way to feel happier, which oxytocin often plays a part in. 

Happiness Hormones And Mental Health Disorders

The feeling of happiness you experience in life occurs due to chemistry in your brain. If the number of hormones in your brain is too high or too low, it can cause mental health conditions like anxiety or depression to develop. Below are some ways that too few or too many happiness hormones can lead to mental health disorders. 

Endorphins

Endorphins may be linked to a few mental disorders, including:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Research has shown that a lack of endorphins may be the reason why OCD develops. How? Endorphins can tell your brain when a task is complete. For example, if you clean your room, you’ll likely reach a point where your mind tells you there’s nothing left to do. A lack of endorphins might cause you to organize your room obsessively until you feel satisfied, which can take a while.

  • Anxiety or anger: Too many endorphins may lead to anxiety or anger. It can give you that fight-or-flight feeling you have during an anxiety attack or overpower your emotions to the point where you can’t feel anything but rage.

  • Depression and self-harm: Intentional acts that cause harm to oneself may be linked to low levels of endorphins, along with depression. Activities that boost the number of endorphins in the brain, like exercise, can help those struggling with depression and self-harm.

If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24/7.

Your Physical And Mental Health Can Be Intricately Connected

Serotonin

Serotonin deficiency can be the reason for a few mental health concerns, including:

  • Memory problems. Those with low serotonin levels may not be able to remember events well.

  • Insomnia. A lack of serotonin may be the reason why some people have trouble sleeping.

  • Like endorphins, serotonin may lead to anger issues, impulsivity, and aggression when there is too little of the chemical in your body.

  • Depression and anxiety. Low levels of serotonin may play a role in mental health conditions like anxiety or depression. 

Dopamine

Dopamine can be linked to mental disorders as well, including:

  • Addiction. Different substances and habits can lead to a rush of dopamine in the brain and throughout the body. As your body tries to get that rush all over again, an addiction can develop.  You can be addicted to cigarettes, food, TV, gambling, and more. Dopamine functions as a reward system. While it may be helpful in moderation, it can also have negative effects when produced in excess.

  • Dopamine, like the other hormones, may have a link to depression. Too little dopamine may lead to depression or a low mood in general.

  • Parkinson's Disease is caused by a lack of dopamine in the body.

  • ADHD may be linked to the poor production of dopamine.

Oxytocin

Oxytocin treatments have seen promise for treating various mental health disorders. The science continues to develop, but there is hope that one day it will be an effective treatment for various disorders, including:

  • Anxiety and depression. Those with anxiety and/or depression may have fewer episodes through oxytocin treatments.

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder. Those with ASD have been shown to have healthier levels of functioning once they are given oxytocin treatments.

  • Addiction. Those with addiction may benefit from oxytocin treatments.

Although oxytocin treatments may be highly effective, it can be difficult to treat humans with it due to its potential side effects. Oxytocin treatment may cause cardiovascular problems and other serious problems. Currently, the goal of many researchers is to find an effective oxytocin treatment that is safe for humans. 

Oxytocin can be thought of as a healing hormone since it’s the chemical of love. Many studies have revealed that people who have long, happy marriages tend to live longer. This may be due to the production of oxytocin in their bodies being able to fight off certain mental illnesses or diseases. 

Looking at human emotions from a scientific standpoint, you can observe that your feelings are simply a chemical reaction happening in the brain. If you don't have enough chemicals, you might feel sad. If you have too many, you may feel angry. If you have just the right amount, you might feel happy. This doesn't devalue human emotion but instead can give it a reason for existing. Recognizing emotions as intricately connected to the chemicals in your brain and body may make happiness feel more achievable. 

Online Therapy With BetterHelp

There are many reasons why you may not be getting all the happiness hormones you need. Sometimes, it's situational. Alternatively, there may be a mental health condition that could be causing an imbalance of happy hormones. No matter the cause, you could benefit from therapy to address these concerns. Working with a licensed therapist through BetterHelp, an online counseling platform, you may be able to learn new techniques for cultivating happiness in your life. The feelings of happiness can come and go, and it may be difficult to prolong treatment while you wait for a therapist to become available in your area. With online therapy, there are no waitlists, and you can message your therapist at any time of the day. This may allow you to seek mental health care more frequently and regularly. 

The Effectiveness Of Online Therapy

Online therapy can be helpful for a variety of mental health concerns. One study found that physicians using an online intervention experienced reduced symptoms of fatigue and a greater quality of life. Researchers conducting this study relied on previous literature that showed that multiple targeted tasks and electronic delivery of micro-tasks can improve happiness and “lead to improvements in multiple dimensions of positive mental health.”

The Takeaway

Happiness can fluctuate throughout life and be affected by a variety of factors. Since there is a link between your physical and mental well-being, it can be vital to pay close attention to both. The happiness hormones can impact how you feel about yourself and your life. If you are facing concerns related to these feel-good chemicals, reaching out to a therapist for support may be helpful. An online therapist can stay connected with you throughout the days and weeks as your needs change and your emotions ebb and flow.

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