How The Happiness Hormones Work With The Body

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson
Updated February 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2012-24615-000Hormones typically play a significant role in maintaining your physical and mental health. They can 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 can impact the body in different manners.

In this article, we’ll explore 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,” are released when the body feels stress or pain. These feel-good chemicals are also 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 conditions like anxiety and depression.

Serotonin

Serotonin is another hormone that can make you feel happier and improve social interaction. Those who experience depression or other mood disorders may have low serotonin levels. The following are some ways you might improve your serotonin levels:

  • Researchers have found that spending time in nature can naturally improve your mental health and cognition. Heading into nature can give 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 produce happier thoughts by writing in a gratitude journal or by working with a therapist, whether in person or online.
  • Carbs may help give you serotonin. Milk, corn, and anything else with tryptophan may 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, or some other physical activity.

Dopamine

Dopamine is often 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. Other activities like having 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 substance,** 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 Services 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 1-800-662-4357 (HELP) to get connected.

Oxytocin

Oxytocin is known as the hormone of love. It is often produced when a person hugs someone they love, when they have sex, or when they give birth. This chemical can contribute 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 is related to chemistry in your brain. If the number of hormones in your brain is too high or too low, it can lead to mental health conditions like anxiety or depression. 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 health conditions, including:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): A lack of endorphins may be one of the reasons why OCD develops. Endorphins can tell your brain when a task is complete. For example, if you complete a task, such as cleaning the kitchen, you may reach a point where your mind tells you there’s nothing left to do. A lack of endorphins might cause you to organize your kitchen obsessively until you feel satisfied, which can take a while.
  • Anxiety or anger: Too many endorphins may lead to anxiety or anger. An excess of endorphins might give you that fight-or-flight feeling you have during an anxiety attack or overpower your emotions.
  • 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, may help individuals who are experiencing depression or thoughts of self-harm.*

*If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can be reached at 988 and is available 24/7.

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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 also be linked to mental health conditions in the following ways:

  • 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, social media, 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 related to a lack of dopamine in the body.
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be linked to the poor production of dopamine.

Oxytocin

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

  • Anxiety and depression. Individuals with anxiety and/or depression may have fewer episodes through oxytocin treatments.
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Those with ASD have been shown to have healthier levels of functioning once they are given oxytocin treatments.
  • Addiction. Individuals experiencing an 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 problems. Currently, the goal of many researchers is to find an effective oxytocin treatment that is safe for humans.

Looking at human emotions from a scientific standpoint, you can observe that your feelings are 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 seem 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.”

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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