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What are happy hormones and how do they improve your life?

November 23, 2022 - 15 min read

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Endorphins

Serotonin

Dopamine

Other hormones affecting happy hormones

How to boost your happy hormones

Having happy hormones in your future

When you think about hormones, names like cortisol, insulin, and testosterone probably come to mind. Those are some of the well-known ones, but scientists have identified over 50 hormones in the human body so far. 

The ones we want to highlight have one thing in common: they make you happy, which is why they’re called happy hormones.

But what are happy hormones? We’re talking about neurotransmitters like endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. These all boost your well-being and provide health benefits that lead you to live a happier life — if you know how to harness them.

What are happy hormones?

Let’s first break down what hormones are. Think of hormones as chemical messengers on the hunt for specific receptors in your body. These are receptors in your nervous system, making the hormones carrying signals neurotransmitters.

A neurotransmitter is what carries the signal a hormone sends from one cell to another throughout your body. They give instructions to your body for functions like digestion, growth, sleep cycles, and more. 

Happy hormones incite positive feelings. They want to help you have a happy brain and body by targeting a specific type of feeling and purpose. Endorphins work as pain relief, such as when you’re having a stress response to a difficult situation.

Serotonin is all about stabilizing your mood and helping your well-being. And dopamine amplifies your motivation and drives your brain’s reward system.

That’s a portion of what each happy hormone does. Let’s dive deeper into these hormones and learn what makes each of them meaningful.

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Endorphins

Are you looking for a natural pain reliever? Endorphins are released by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus when your body is experiencing pain. Endorphins carry messages to your nervous system to let your body know you’re not in danger and can relax after experiencing something painful. 

How do endorphins affect your body?

Endorphins work to relieve pain and stress. You could have a headache or a sore back from stress, or you could be running a race and feel pain in your legs. Endorphins target those areas where you’re experiencing pain or stress to help you feel at ease again.

Here are a few ways endorphins affect your body:

  • Lower and steady your heart rate

  • Build self-confidence and self-esteem

  • Minimize cramps

  • Help to reduce inflammation

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What happens when you have low endorphin levels?

Pain and stress aren’t feelings you want to last. This feel-good hormone relieves you of those sensations to limit their impact on your daily life. Without endorphins, your body struggles to cope with negative situations.

Here are a few things that happen when you have low endorphins in your body:

  • You start to feel the long-term impacts of chronic stress

  • You have trouble sleeping and resting

  • You are irritable and in a bad mood more often

Serotonin

Serotonin is created in the central part of your brain and travels around through your nervous system. Your body uses an amino acid called tryptophan hydroxylase to produce serotonin, which is integral to bodily functions.

This hormone reaches each part of your body to help stabilize processes like sleep, digestion, and wound healing and encourage positive overall well-being.

How does serotonin affect your body?

Serotonin’s primary goal is to regulate your mood and bodily function. 

Apart from boosting your mood, here are a few other ways that serotonin affects your body:

  • Controls your bowel movements and helps your digestive system

  • Helps regulate your circadian rhythm and promotes greater sleep hygiene 

  • Stimulates the brain and increases learning abilities

If we’re talking about serotonin, we also have to talk about your gut. Gut bacteria produce up to 95% of your body’s serotonin and hundreds of neurochemicals that your brain depends on for things like learning, memory, and mood.

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That means that your diet dictates your serotonin levels and impacts mood regulation. This is reason to ensure you’re getting your daily vitamins and nutrients.

What happens when you have low serotonin levels?

Serotonin deficiency is caused by an abundance of stress, not enough tryptophan in the body, and a lack of nutrients like vitamin D. Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps promote growth and is a valuable ingredient for the production of serotonin.

Low serotonin means more than being in a bad mood: it throws your body off its usual routine and can create physical and mental health concerns. 

Here are ways that low serotonin levels impact your body:

  • Increased depressed and anxious feelings

  • Irregular bowel movements 

  • Less energy and greater fatigue

  • Intense mood swings and lowered self-control

Dopamine

Dopamine is a happy hormone that controls your brain’s reward system and drives you to seek pleasure. Dopamine is created in the base of your brain in two steps: an amino acid called tyrosine is first converted into another acid called L-dopa, then enzymes change L-dopa into dopamine. 

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How does dopamine affect your body?

Dopamine motivates you to achieve your goals, regardless of what they are. As long as you’ll earn a reward, dopamine is there to reinforce your ambition.

Here are other ways that dopamine affects your body:

  • Harnesses your focus and attention span to concentrate 

  • Improves your memory when you’re learning new things

  • Makes you feel excited and energetic about achieving your goals

But we have to highlight that too much dopamine can have serious side effects on your health. High dopamine levels can encourage addiction to drugs or gambling because you feel a sense of reward from them.

What happens when you have dopamine levels?

Dopamine deficiency has a proven link to health conditions like Parkinson’s disease, ADHD, and certain diets that don’t provide enough protein. Low dopamine levels impact everything from how you think to how you feel every day.

Here are things that happen when your dopamine levels are low:

  • You have trouble thinking clearly and remembering things, also known as brain fog

  • You feel more lethargic

  • Your motivation levels are poor

  • You have difficulty concentrating

Other hormones affecting happy hormones 

Sometimes neurotransmitters interact with hormones in your body to achieve a similar goal, while others disturb what they try to accomplish. 

Let’s take a look at a few other hormones in your body and how they interact with some happy hormones:

  • Melatonin is a hormone that helps keep your circadian rhythm on track and is produced when exposed to darkness. Discussions about serotonin vs. melatonin often circle around the fact that both hormones help with your sleep. Melatonin works exclusively for your sleep cycle, whereas serotonin impacts more areas of your body and well-being. 

  • Oxytocin, known as the cuddle hormone, has been linked to dopamine. But while dopamine motivates you to achieve your reward, oxytocin is produced when you’re experiencing the resulting reward or pleasure. You still feel a rush, but it’s not present while you work toward a reward — that’s dopamine.

  • Testosterone and estrogen have been found to impact the neurotransmitters carrying dopamine through your body. As you enter puberty, the dramatic change in these sex hormones also creates molecular and cellular changes in your body and transmits dopamine.

    During this growth stage, your body tries to acclimate to the new surge of hormones, and the amino acids used to create dopamine fluctuate. These fluctuating dopamine levels may impact you into adulthood and shape your perspective on motivation, rewards, and goals. 

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How to boost your happy hormones

Now that you know more about each happy hormone, it’s time to learn how to boost them. And you don’t have to take supplements to do it. 

You might recognize some of these tips as steps you already take in your routine or actions you’d like to start practicing. Lean into your interests and pick a tip that best suits your needs and goals.

Here are four ways to boost your happy hormones:

1. Develop an exercise routine

Have you ever heard of a runner’s high? It’s the euphoric sensation you feel while exercising because your body releases endorphins. Exercise boosts physical and mental health in many ways, including releasing endorphins. You don’t have to exercise exclusively at a gym, either.

Consider hiking, dancing, swimming, or walking. You can even make exercise a social activity by teaming up with friends.

2. Remember to laugh

You’ve heard the saying that laughter’s the best medicine, but have you ever believed it? Studies have found that laughter is linked to stress reduction and the production of serotonin.

It uplifts your mood and gives you something positive to focus on. Consider watching funny movies or writing down your most humorous stories to reflect on when you need a laugh.

3. Make time to meditate

Mindfulness and meditation help you slow down and become more aware of your body and health. They’ve been found to be helpful ways to increase dopamine because they demand your focus, attention span, and concentration to be successful. Find practices that fit your needs and routine, and keep with them.

4. Eat food that fuels you

Just like some foods are rich in nutrients, some encourage hormone production, improving your mood and ability to focus. Foods like dark chocolate contain tyramine, which is the amino acid that’s involved in creating dopamine.

Other foods like yogurt, eggs, and almonds also help release dopamine. Consider foods with high tryptophan that increase serotonin levels, like oats, peanuts, or tuna. Your diet doesn’t need to revolve around these foods, but incorporating them will benefit your health.

Having happy hormones in your future

Understanding what happy hormones are giving you insight into natural ways to reap positive health benefits related to mood and motivation. 

Now that you’re aware of actions you can take to naturally help your health and well-being, you’re prepared to boost your happy hormones to live a meaningful and enjoyable life. Stay curious, and learn more about what you can do to give yourself a boost.

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Published November 23, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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