from the lab

Hack Your Happy: Meet Your Brain’s Smile-Boosting Chemicals

We’re all chasing happiness to a certain extent, whether its by trying to go on more vacations, finding the perfect job, or looking for the latest wellness trend that promises glowing skin. But what if we told you that you can boost your happiness through what’s already inside your brain? We’re all about brain health here, and happiness is one of our favorite keys to brain health and longevity.

Meet our four happiness-boosting chemicals for your daily D.O.S.E. of happiness: Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins.

A well known “reward” chemical in our brain, dopamine is released whenever we accomplish something, feel pleasure, or perform acts of kindness. It is also synthesized from tryptophan, so you can find it in similar foods as those known to boost serotonin. It also helps regulate our feelings of alertness and being awake. In fact, it has been shown that sleep deprived people have less dopamine than those who are well rested.

At the happiness-center of our personal relationships is oxytocin, responsible for fostering intimacy and trust. Nicknamed the “cuddle hormone,” oxytocin stimulates dopamine and serotonin while reducing stress.  Oxytocin runs abundant in mothers during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Establishing meaningful personal connections, spending time with a pet, and even giving a hug are easy ways to boost our oxytocin levels.

Meet serotonin. It’s a neurotransmitter founded by the amino acid tryptophan that helps regulate mood, appetite, sleep, and sexual drive. Serotonin is triggered throughout the day by various activities we partake in and certain environmental factors. It is notable for being one of the most prominent chemicals in the brain for happiness because many antidepressants work to upkeep the levels of serotonin in the brain. We can increase our levels of this “happy” chemical by exposing ourselves to more bright light and sunshine, as well as regularly exercising and eating healthy foods high in tryptophan (found in many protein-based foods such as dairy, turkey, and oats).

Not just of Legally Blonde fame, endorphins are released in response to pain and stress. Scientifically speaking, endorphins are opioid neuropeptides, produced within the central nervous system to be released when we experience physical pain or stress. Endorphins are released during exercise, which is why we often feel that notorious “runner’s high.” Getting some laughs throughout your day is another great way to trigger endorphin release.

How do we encourage more release of these chemicals?
Get moving.

One of the simplest ways to encourage endorphin release is through exercise. It also boosts serotonin and dopamine levels, making it an all around happy-booster. Want to take it a step further and get your full D.O.S.E? Oxytocin is triggered through personal connections, so try taking a group fitness class or encouraging a close friend or significant other to join you on your morning run.

Work towards a new goal.

Whether it’s picking up a new skill or hobby like an instrument or signing up for a spin class, setting goals for small milestones can trigger dopamine release. As we do something that pleases us such as accomplishing a task, our brain rewards us with release of dopamine to raise our happiness.

Get some fresh air.

Going for a walk and getting some sunshine will boost your serotonin levels while also getting your blood pumping. If it’s a sunny day, spend at least 20 minutes going for a stroll for the full effect.

Practice aromatherapy.

Both vanilla and lavender are known to increase endorphin levels. Whether it’s through essential oils, candles, or scented mists, keeping them around for a quick release of endorphins can be very beneficial. Read more on our favorite essential oils here.


How do you hack your happy? Leave us a comment and let us know.  

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