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Understanding the happiness molecules and how to healthily boost them

Nothing beats the warm, fuzzy feeling of happiness. It’s so good that we have a number of neurotransmitters in our brain that make us feel happy including dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin. So, how can we boost our happiness hormone levels naturally?


Dopamine is the pleasure neurotransmitter and is released when we do something pleasurable such as eating. It also plays an important role in the reward system in our brain. For example, when you complete a set task in a certain amount of time, the pleasure you feel when that goal is achieved is driven by dopamine.

A lack of dopamine can result in moodiness, sugar cravings and low motivation. One of the main components of dopamine is tyrosine which is found in lots of foods including avocados and almonds. You can also boost your dopamine by exercising regularly and getting the occasional massage too.


Oxytocin is also known as the bonding hormone because when released, it increases our trust in and loyalty to other people. In fact, it’s the key hormone when mother and baby are bonding. It’s also the hormone released when people are falling in love which makes it quite a special neurotransmitter! 

Oxytocin is activated and controlled by vitamin D which might explain why sunny days make us feel so good. It also needs vitamin C synthesised so eating plenty of vitamin C rich foods should help boost your oxytocin levels! Magnesium is also very important so make sure to eat plenty of spinach, bananas and dark chocolate. 


Endorphins are released during exercise and in times of stress. They’re behind what’s known as the “runner’s high” after intense exercise which boosts your mood. They are also known as pain-killing molecules as they’re structurally similar to opiates like morphine.

There are some ways you can boost your endorphin levels without exercising. Alternative treatments such as acupuncture have been shown the increase the production of endorphins. Eating dark chocolate or spicy food have also been linked with an increase.


Serotonin is the main neurotransmitter responsible for happiness but it has loads of other roles too. Serotonin is key to the sleep cycle as well as organ development and gut health. In fact, 90% of the body’s serotonin comes from the gut rather than the brain! 

Tryptophan, an essential amino acid is the key component of serotonin. So, like dopamine, eating foods rich in tryptophan can be a simple way to boost your mood. Meats such as chicken and turkey are rich in it, as well as soy, tofu and fish. Eggs and peanuts are also great sources.  

While boosting your happiness neurotransmitters is a great way to improve your mood, it isn’t a long-term solution to mental health problems. If you’re concerned about your mental health, please speak to your GP.

Interested in reading more on mental health? Click here for more articles from Vhi.