13 Natural Ways to Boost Your Happy Hormones
Good morning, sunshine! Isn’t it a great morning to be alive?! Wait, you say you’re not feeling it? In fact, you don’t feel all that happy? You are not alone. Look at the world around us—the stress, increased isolation and loneliness, the economic changes… the pandemic. There’s a lot out of our control right now. However, our happiness doesn’t have to be. There are simple ways to help boost our happy hormones, even when things don’t seem to be going as well as we’d all like.
Unhappiness: An Epidemic?
If you feel like you’re alone in your struggle to be happier, rest assured, that’s not the case. Research has found that only 47.7% of Americans are happy with their work (compared to 61.1 in 1987). 1 And this research is from 2014.
Even worse, general life satisfaction is at an all-time low with only 31% of Americans claiming they’re very happy. 2 Again, the latest research is from 2016, and a lot has happened since then.
Happiness, however, is worth seeking as it’s linked to greater success, increased resilience and coping skills, improved immunity, and even decreased risk of disease. In other words, happiness and life satisfaction are strongly connected. 3 – 6
Yet there is some positive news as well with more people (71%) defining the “Good Life” as balanced simplicity, greater connections, putting health and people over things, and looking beyond oneself. 7
What Makes Us Happy?
Many of us believe that happiness comes from our experiences in life, our surroundings or possessions, working toward our purpose, or being around the people we love (or at least like) in our everyday life. Yet when we dig deeper, happiness is truly more of a chemical reaction.
In fact, there are four key chemicals in the brain that are associated with the emotion of happiness.
This means that even when circumstances aren’t perfect, the people around us are acting, well, not so great, or we’re just feeling unhappy for any reason, we may be able to trigger the release of our happy hormones to alter our mood and become a little more joyful.
The 4 Happy Hormones
What chemicals create feelings of happiness? They are four hormones, which also act as neurochemicals or neurotransmitters that make us happy. They are:
Known technically as “opioid neuropeptides,” endorphins are produced in the body by the central nervous system to help us better handle pain. When released, they can help us feel almost giddy and lightheaded. 8
One of the best ways to release endorphins is to exercise. Go for a walk or a run, hit the weights, or play a physical game (e.g., basketball, volleyball). Find an enjoyable way to move your body to help increase endorphins levels. Numerous studies have found the beneficial effects of exercise on mood with as little as 30 minutes per day for 10 days. 9
Perhaps the best-known happy hormone is the neurotransmitter serotonin, likely because of the research into the area for pharmaceuticals to help combat depression. 10 Fortunately, you don’t necessarily need drugs to raise serotonin levels. In fact, it may be one of the easiest happy hormones to address.
Just getting out into the sunlight (or alternatively, exposure to bright daylight-mimicking lights) can increase levels. Exercise is another way to increase production. Finally, consuming certain mood foods (such as those high in tryptophan like turkey, milk, or chickpeas) may help increase happiness. 11,12
Making these adjustments doesn’t just help improve mood. Serotonin is also needed in the body to help regulate appetite and sleep.
Another neurotransmitter, dopamine, has been called the “chemical of reward.” You know the elation you feel after you reach a goal, accomplish a task, pay it forward, perform an act of kindness, get an A on a report, or even get a like on Facebook? That’s due to your brain releasing dopamine to reward you for the good job.
One surefire way to boost dopamine levels includes volunteering or giving back to your community. 13 Yet even thinking positive, loving thoughts can increase dopamine levels. For example, the loving-kindness meditation has been shown to increase mindfulness, decrease illness, and reduce symptoms of depression. 14 – 17
Also known as the “cuddle hormone,” oxytocin is associated with touch, cuddling, close relationships, and especially motherhood. 18, 19 It’s released most abundantly during pregnancy and feeding as mothers care for their infants. However, you don’t need to have children to benefit from oxytocin. Showing love to anyone—even a pet—through touch can raise levels. Listening to soothing music has also been shown to increase oxytocin levels. 20, 21
When oxytocin levels rise, they also stimulate an increase in dopamine and serotonin, producing a triple threat of happiness. Increased levels have also been shown to reduce anxiety.
13 Ways to Boost the Happy Hormone
Like with many things in life, the more you take action to boost your happy hormones, the more likely you are to be happy. Simple actions you can add to your happier lifestyle include:
1. Deciding to be happy. It may not always be easy, but it really seems to be that simple when it comes to being happier.
2. Making happiness a practice. Set aside a few minutes each day to be happy and count your blessings. And/or carve out some time every day to do things that make you happy.
3. Giving it away. One of the easiest ways to increase your own happiness is to give it away. Make eye contact and smile at coworkers, clerks, and strangers. Find ways to show compassion and caring, even if you don’t necessarily feel like doing so.
4. Consuming a healthy, balanced diet filled with vegetables and fruits, quality proteins, and healthy fats to fuel energy levels and provide the nutrients your body needs to support healthy hormone levels.
5. Exercising regularly has been shown to increase levels of all four happy hormones. It doesn’t appear to matter which type of exercise you do as much as making sure you exercise regularly. So, enjoy a variety of movements, including dancing. 22
6. Getting some sunshine or, alternatively, getting into bright light that mimics sunlight has been shown to help boost mood by increasing levels of serotonin. 23
7. Laughing out loud, especially with friends and family. There’s good reason why laughter is called “the best medicine,” and it’s even better when shared! 24, 25
8. Consider supplementing to support healthy levels of happy hormones. Some nutrients that research has found to be linked to the happy hormones include:
- Tyrosine (dopamine)
- Green tea or green tea extract (dopamine and serotonin)
- Probiotics (serotonin)
- Tryptophan (serotonin)
9. Listening to or making music to help increase dopamine production and release endorphins. Feel free to get up and dance for even greater joy. 26, 27
10. Getting up close and personal with your partner. Mutually sharing cuddles, kisses, dancing, and yes, sex, all contribute to increased oxytocin production. Yet even simply being attracted to someone can increase levels. 28
11. Petting your dog or cat not only boosts your oxytocin levels but could increase them for your pet too. Take a moment to give your favorite dog or cat a bit of affection to lift both of you up. 28
12. Practicing healthy sleep hygiene helps support healthy hormone levels, including dopamine.
13. Getting a massage is another way to boost all four happy hormones—whether it’s from a loved one or going to a licensed massage therapist to help release knots and soothe sore muscles. 29
Boost Your Happy Hormones: A Recap
Happiness can feel hard to come by—especially during the most stressful days. And the chemicals and hormones throughout our bodies are affected in numerous ways. 8 Fortunately, our brains and bodies are regularly adjusting chemically to how we act in everyday life.
It’s not possible to feel happy every moment of every day, but there are ways to boost your happy hormones. And now that you know how, hopefully, that happy good morning may not sound quite so impossible after all. 30