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 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? This is partly due to things like contributing to the well-being of the people and community around them, being able to adopt a growth mindset during challenging times and making progress in life.

Aside from these factors, which are completely within your control, there is a science behind 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. Understanding the science of happiness is best done by looking inward.

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 your brain and body that make you 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.


Dopamine plays a part in affecting your ability to concentrate, sleep and remember information, and impacts your quality of sleep. Your body often releases dopamine after you’ve reached a goal; dopamine plays a role in how motivated you are to 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. People with low levels of dopamine might be dealing with depression, and can have trouble staying on task and remaining motivated.

dopamine 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, you have the power to change your thoughts.

Increase levels of neurotransmitters that affect happiness, like serotonin and dopamine, by doing things that make you feel good. When you move your body and release endorphins, practice gratitude regularly and set and achieve goals, you can bolster the amount of serotonin and dopamine in your brain. By learning to do this on a regular basis, you can create a cycle of joy that you can tap into at any time.

No one feels happy 100% of the time – that’s impossible. But 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.