The science of happiness

When was the last time you felt wildly happy? When was the last time you woke up feeling energetic, joyful and grateful for all that you had? Our happiness depends on many things. Your state changes depending on how you react to changes in your career, marriage, personal life and finances.

Some people are mostly happy almost all the time, while others battle with issues like depression and have a hard time feeling happy. Why is it that some people seem happier than others on a consistent basis? Happiness can be due in part to giving back to the people and community around them, adopting a growth mindset during challenging times and making progress in life.

Aside from these factors, which are completely within your control, there is another aspect to consider: the science of happiness. There are neurological chemicals and processes that are the same in practice but vary from person to person, causing you to feel more or less happy in life. Serotonin happiness and dopamine happiness are proven factors in our overall well-being and understanding these concepts can help with our moods.

Serotonin and dopamine happiness: Understanding brain chemistry

Human beings are wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain; we look to not only survive in life, but to experience a sense of joy. Our brain chemistry is designed to support these efforts by releasing chemicals into our brain and body that make us feel good. There are numerous neurotransmitters, or substances released by nerve fibers, that affect happiness. Although there are quite a few that make us feel joyful, right now we’ll focus on two: serotonin and dopamine.

science of happiness


serotonin happiness

Serotonin is created in the brain as well as in the intestines. Once produced, the neurotransmitter is circulated in the blood and throughout the central nervous system. Some scientists refer to serotonin as the “happiness chemical,” because it’s linked to mood levels.

People who are diagnosed with depression typically have low levels of serotonin available, whereas people with high serotonin often report being happier. People with higher serotonin levels also demonstrate higher levels of self-esteem and have an easier time handling rejection. Serotonin is more free-flowing when you feel important or valued by those around you, which is why humans often feel happier when they’re social. When you’re experiencing serotonin happiness, it takes no effort to feel joyful – it just seems to happen naturally.


Dopamine affects your ability to concentrate, focus and remember information and impacts your quality of sleep. Your body often releases dopamine after you’ve reached a goal and it plays a role in how quickly and efficiently you get things done. Your body knows that if it achieves an objective, your mind will flood the body with dopamine, causing you to feel happy and fulfilled. This isn’t just true of achieving big goals. Even when you accomplish a small task you’ve set for yourself, your dopamine levels will increase. Dopamine happiness feels invigorating and energizing. People with low levels of dopamine might deal with depression or other mood disorders and can have trouble staying on task and remaining focused.

dopamine happiness

Balancing happiness in the brain

Dopamine and serotonin happiness are relatively balanced in those who eat nutritious diets, get plenty of exercise and manage their stress levels effectively. Unless they have a biological condition that decreases their levels of one of these chemicals, they should have an overall feeling of well-being that is present in their daily lives. However, for those who lead unhealthy lifestyles and let stress take over, a deadly chemical called cortisol can be released and inhibit the chemicals we rely on for happiness. Cortisol not only reduces our serotonin and dopamine happiness, it also negatively impacts memory and focus, can lead to weight gain and can have serious effects on our major organs and immune system. 

Taking natural supplements, utilizing stress-reducing technology like NuCalm and reserving plenty of time for self-care are good strategies for embracing calmness and balancing chemicals in your brain. However, if these techniques do not work and you are experiencing a depression you can’t shake, you should seek help.

The science of happiness: Is your happiness level predetermined?

happiness in the brain

You might think that because your brain is wired a certain way that there’s nothing you can do about your everyday happiness. After all, some of this is genetic, right? While it’s true that your brain chemistry is affected by your biology, the science of happiness shows that you have the power to change your thoughts.

Though serotonin and dopamine happiness is dependent on the levels of these chemicals in the brain, it does not mean you are powerless to influence them. You can increase levels of neurotransmitters that affect happiness by doing things that make you feel good. Move your body on a daily basis for at least an hour to release endorphins and boost your mood. You can also practice gratitude regularly by writing in a journal, meditating on all the good things in your life or finding ways to show appreciation to those close to you. Make a point to feed your mind with nutritious information like self-help books, interesting biographies or inspirational novels. Finally, surrounding yourself with those who are positive and supportive will stimulate the release of “feel good” brain chemicals and help you remain in a peak state.

No one feels happy 100% of the time, but the science of happiness shows us that there are things we can do to boost our mood. Even when you face a challenge, you can find a way to accept and learn from it. By creating close social connections and making progress in life, you have the power to reframe your mindset and create a cycle of happiness. While neurotransmitters certainly affect your state, as Tony Robbins says, “Progress equals happiness.”


Discover how you can reframe your mindset in order to create our own cycle of joy with Tony Robbins’ free digital Limiting Beliefs guide.