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Understanding our physical happiness chemicals

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Contrary to what we may think, happiness is not all in our heads.

Chemicals in our physical makeup play a significant role in the state of our happiness and the actions we take can inspire our bodies to make more.

This means that what we think, the behaviors we exhibit, the food choices we make, and the movement we do all make a difference in the level of joy we experience on a daily basis.

How does this happen?

There are four specific neurotransmitters that are directly related to feelings of happiness:

  • dopamine
  • serotonin
  • oxytocin
  • endorphins

Each of these chemical messengers is designed to communicate information throughout the body. They’re influenced by internal chemistry through which the body signals to the brain such things as hunger, fatigue, body temperature – and feelings of pleasure, love, connection, reward, and happiness.

Let’s take a look at how each of these neurotransmitters relates to our sense of bliss.


Dopamine is a neurotransmitter attributed to feeling rewarded. It makes you seek out, search, strive, and feel accomplished. This chemical helps us feel good about what we’ve done and provides a sense of pride for our courage and hard work.

Higher levels of dopamine can mean more happiness. Just be mindful that too much dopamine can increase anxiety.


Serotonin is primarily made in the gut and is affected by the body’s microbiome. It’s created when tryptophan transforms into 5-HTP and then into serotonin. 

High levels of serotonin can result in a good mood and a positive outlook. However, too much can result in reduced productivity.

Low levels of serotonin have been associated with depression. Common medications such as SSRIs help the body to recycle serotonin rather than deplete it. 


Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that is released when love is felt. It is commonly experienced when connections are made – for example, during sex, birth, and breastfeeding.

Overall, it seeks connection with others. Think a date with your spouse, cuddling with your children, or helping a neighbor.

Research shows that higher levels of oxytocin may increase generosity and giving to others.


Typically associated with physical exercise, endorphins are peptides (amino acids stuck together) made in the hypothalamus and pituitary gland that relieve pain, both emotionally and physically.

They can release after a walk around the block or a bite of dark chocolate, so keep moving and enjoy that little indulgence.

For many of us, increasing these neurotransmitter levels can make a big impact on our state of happiness. 

However, it’s important to keep in mind that more doesn’t always mean better. Balance is vital for stability and long-term mental and physical health.