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The 6 most important happy hormones and how to activate them

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Happy hormones are various chemical messengers, like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, that are responsible for keeping us feeling great. Let’s take a deep dive into everything you need to know about these powerful happiness boosters and their effects.

What are happy hormones?

The term “happy hormones” refers to various chemicals that are primarily released in the brain. They’re what make us feel good, both physically and mentally, when hormone levels are at a good balance for your body. These hormones and neurotransmitters, which travel through the body via our blood and nerve pathways, can (among other things) relax us, provide pain relief, and increase our concentration. The most important ones are dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, adrenaline and noradrenaline, endorphins and phenylethylamine.

What are the different happy hormones?

Together, these “feel-good” heroes ensure our good mood and mental health. Meet the most important ones and get to know their effects:

Hormone Function Effect
Dopamine Motivation increases motivation and impulses
Serotonin Feel-good improves mood, reduces anxiety
Oxytocin Cuddle increases feelings of trust and bonding, reduces stress
Adrenaline and Noradrenaline Courage help our response to short-term stress; increase concentration and readiness for action
Endorphins Energy inhibit the perception of pain, enhance motivation
Phenylethylamine Pleasure increases the sensation of pleasure and the feeling of being in love

Dopamine: The motivation hormone

A man and woman of color grin at each other while taking a jog on an outdoor, paved road. A hill covered in greenery is visible to the woman's left side.
©PeopleImages

Dopamine is one of the crucial neurotransmitters for our well-being. It stimulates our brain’s internal reward system and is therefore mostly associated with motivation. With balanced dopamine levels, it’s easier for you to pursue your goals. The reason’s simple: once released, dopamine induces a reward response in the brain.

This feedback loop – when mixed with serotonin – triggers a desire for repetition. It felt good the first time, so you’ll want to stick with a project or workout to experience the same feeling of happiness all over again. In conjunction with norepinephrine and serotonin, dopamine is also responsible for fine motor skills, coordination, and concentration. (1)

Serotonin: The feel-good hormone

Serotonin is known as the feel-good substance. It influences, among other things, our perception of pain, as well as our sleep and sexual behavior. This neurotransmitter plays a key role in generating feelings of calm, joy, and contentment. Serotonin can balance you out and liven you up. It can also improve your long-term resilience to stress and make you less anxious.

Depending on which receptors in the body this neurotransmitter bonds with, serotonin production can have a calming effect, stimulate memory, or promote deep sleep. Serotonin regulates sleep cycles and the transition from one sleep phase to the next.

Oxytocin: The cuddle hormone

a white couple with beards and short hair snuggle with a dog to release happy hormones. They are standing outdoors with bright sunlight shining from behind the taller man's head.
@svetikd

Oxytocin is known as the cuddle hormone. As such, it plays a central role in the formation of interpersonal relationships. It strengthens empathy, promotes trust in partnerships, and increases sexual arousal. This is why it’s often thought of as the bonding hormone.

Oxytocin has another vital function, as a counterpart to our body’s stress hormones (like cortisol), in relieving stress and helping us relax. It’s also involved in many aspects of childbirth and is responsible for the close bond between a parent and their newborn. (2)

Adrenaline and Noradrenaline: The courage hormones

Adrenaline and noradrenaline are particularly important in times of stress. Together, these neurotransmitters make us more focused, attentive, and motivated in those moments.

When there’s a threat or an acutely stressful situation, the brain releases noradrenaline (also known as norepinephrine), which keeps you ready to act at a moment’s notice. It triggers the typical fight-or-flight reactions in the body, such as an increase in heart rate and blood sugar levels, and an increase in oxygen supply to the brain.

Two people go tandem skydiving over a view of islands and sea.
@Graiki

Adrenaline is kicked into high gear during short-term stress. Its main task is to provide the energy needed to react immediately in emergency situations. Adrenaline has a positive, activating effect: You’ve probably heard the expression “adrenaline rush”. It occurs, for example, when you ride a rollercoaster or dare to skydive. In excess, though, it can also trigger anxiety and restlessness. (3)

Endorphins: The energy hormones

Endorphins primarily act as natural painkillers. In the brain and spinal cord, they prevent pain stimuli from being transmitted. Because of this, they’re released, for example, in the event of an acute injury.

Endorphins also put you in a kind of state of intoxication. Maybe you’re familiar with an energy boost during a workout just when you were on the verge of giving up? This is partly due to endorphins. They virtually numb the feeling of exhaustion. (4)

Phenylethylamine: The pleasure hormone

Phenylethylamine is thought of as the pleasure or love hormone. It provides the tummy tingles we get when we’re in love or sexually aroused. And alongside oxytocin, it forms the chemical basis for relationships. Phenylethylamine intensifies sensations of pleasure and concentration. As soon as it’s released, it causes a rush-like, satisfied state.

Fun fact: the butterflies in the stomach feeling that phenylethylamine causes can occur not only during acute infatuation, but also during a workout. (5)

Activating happy hormones in our brain – here’s how

Happiness is a complex interaction of our many hormones. Many of these interactions are beyond your control, but you can influence others with certain lifestyle factors: If you know how, you can help the chemistry work in your favor.

A woman of color with natural tightly curled hair flexes her biceps and winks at the camera with a grin. She is standing on a beach.
©Luis Alvarez

Here are our best tips on how to boost your body’s natural happy hormones and bliss out:

  1. Light: Serotonin is released more when you’re exposed to natural sunlight. Spend at least thirty minutes a day in the fresh air. This not only makes you happier, but can also strengthen your immune system.
  2. Exercise: The release of endorphins, dopamine, and adrenaline/noradrenaline is closely tied to physical activity. Whether it’s HIIT, yoga, or a walk, you’re doing something good for your mood and mental health when you exercise regularly. Find lots of free workouts to do at home here!
  3. Touch: The hormone duo oxytocin and phenylethylamine depend on closeness and physical touch. If you don’t have a partner, you can get a massage or snuggle up with your pet to get your cuddles.
  4. Diet: A diet rich in protein and carbohydrates can help keep you balanced. You can find tips for a healthy, balanced diet
  5. Relaxation: Adverse stress is poison for your central nervous system. So try to consciously relax in your everyday life — try using meditation, listening to music, doing breathing exercises, or journaling. Wellness treatments or a visit to the sauna can also have beneficial effects.
  6. Laugh: Fake it till you make it – last but not least, you can control your sense of happiness by putting yourself in a good mood. Laughter affects the body in many ways. It can reduce stress and positively influence the activity of dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins.

Summary

  • Happy hormones are the body’s own chemical mood boosters that influence our sense of well-being.
  • Six substances and neurotransmitters – dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, adrenaline/norepinephrine, endorphins, and phenylethylamine – are referred to as happy hormones.
  • Dopamine activates the reward system in the brain and is involved with our motivation.
  • Serotonin gives the feel-good mood boost that reduces anxiety and evens out our mood.
  • Oxytocin release is associated with cuddling and social bonding. It strengthens feelings of trust and reduces stress.
  • Adrenaline and noradrenaline make us ready for action in situations of acute stress. They increase our concentration and performance.
  • Endorphins positively influence our energy levels and inhibit the perception of pain.
  • Phenylethylamine provides pleasure and the feeling of being in love, sometimes expressed by tingling butterflies  in the stomach.
  • You can positively influence the release of happy hormones through getting some fresh air, working out, eating right, relaxing, and connecting with others.
Article sources
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  • (1) https://roempp.thieme.de/lexicon/RD-04-02381

    https://d-nb.info/1024873676/34

    https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/dopamine-affects-how-brain-decides-whether-goal-worth-effort

  • (2) https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-020-0878-x

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21250892/

  • (3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3056281/

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4899514/

  • (4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3104618/

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6091217/

  • (5) https://www.scq.ubc.ca/is-there-a-neurochemical-basis-for-falling-in-love/

    PEA – a Natural Antidepressant

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