What does happiness mean to you? We all know money can’t buy it, and not even the most enterprising of entrepreneurs have figured out how to bottle it. No matter how hard they try, experts can’t seem to crack the code on how to be happy.
The good news? When you modify your daily routine in small ways, you can increase the neurotransmitter dopamine. One of the main effects of dopamine is boosting feelings of happiness and pleasure. You hold the power to create your own happiness!
What Is Dopamine?
Dopamine is a "feel good" neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation. Like all neurotransmitters, dopamine transmits messages between nerve cells in the brain and body. It works with another feel-good neurotransmitter — serotonin.
Higher levels of dopamine in the brain result in a positive mood. This means there is a relationship between the amount of dopamine your body releases and how happy you feel. That means that by changing small things in your life, you can boost your body's dopamine production and essentially create your own happiness!
How Do I Boost Dopamine to Create Happiness?
There are many ways to increase dopamine levels and create happiness for yourself. Here are our best suggestions.
Practice Positivity & Gratitude
People tend to base their sense of well-being on the balance between positive and negative emotions. Since increased dopamine is connected to a positive mood, cultivating good feelings can help you create happiness — and it will grow over time.
Wondering how to incorporate the power of positive thinking into your life? Keep a notebook or journal where you write down at least one good thing that happened to you every day. Better yet, write five. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude!
So, banish negative thoughts and focus on the positive. Identify small and big happy moments to shift your focus and increase dopamine.
Fill Your Day With Things You Love
Another simple way to create your own happiness involves filling your day with little things that make you happy. Take a long, luxurious bath before bed. Create for yourself a relaxing, comfortable home with items that spark joy. Give back to others.
Spreading joy to yourself and others gives you something to look forward to. This can fill your emotional reservoir, which can help during not-so-happy moments.
Social worker Michelle K. learned the happiness-boosting power of anticipation when her son was a newborn. "Caring for a new baby can be really hard! I started treating myself to a big cup of coffee after lunch every day," she explains. "It’s a small thing that makes a big difference. Looking forward to drinking it kept my spirits high during tough times."
Get Your Sleep On!
Happy days start with restful nights. Ask anyone who has felt low after a late night or dealt with a cranky kid who missed his nap: sleep quality has a significant impact on mood. A lack of sleep can also trigger junk food cravings, and poor food choices leave you feeling worse. It’s a cycle that you can flip the script on!
Dopamine helps regulate circadian rhythms in the central nervous system. Generally, dopamine makes you feel more awake by suppressing melatonin — the sleep hormone.
When your body does not produce enough dopamine, or the dopamine you have can’t get recycled in the normal physiological processes, you sleep less. So mind your dopamine if you want to get sleep — which will make you happier!
Treat Yourself to a Massage
You can’t buy happiness, but you can pay for a professional massage. Better yet, have your partner do it for free! The healing power of touch will increase dopamine and serotonin while reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Wisconsin-based art director Curtis W. started getting massages to treat lower back pain, but it didn’t take long for him to notice how uplifted he felt after every session. "I’d walk out of the massage therapist’s office feeling like a million bucks," he says, "and the mood boost would last for days."
Even after his back pain went away, Curtis continued to get regular massages. "Any time I’m feeling low, I schedule a massage. I’m always a happier, more relaxed person afterward."
Looking for a science-backed way to create your own happiness that won’t cost you a thing? Try meditation. Meditation involves sitting still and staying quiet for a period of time — a minimum of five minutes, but preferably ten or longer.
The change in consciousness that occurs when you’re in a meditative state triggers the body to release more dopamine. And this leads to a more peaceful, happier state of mind.
One of the best things about meditation is that it doesn’t require any special equipment or a huge time commitment. It can take some time to learn to meditate, but it’s not hard! Check out our article about Dr. Group’s beginner’s meditation techniques. Meditation is wonderful, simple tool to improve your mood. The more you do it, the better you will feel.
If you’ve felt the so-called "runner’s high" after a great workout — or after a hearty yoga session — you experienced an increase in dopamine. One of the benefits of exercise is that it bumps up serum calcium levels in the body, which enhances dopamine signals and synthesis. The result? A natural "high" feeling.
Retail buyer Joy P. started running because she wanted to lose a few pounds before her wedding, but exercise became much more about her emotional well being than her weight.
"I’m an anxious person, and I was amazed by how much happier and less stressed I felt after running," she says. "Now it’s my therapy. I started running 15 years ago, and I still do it at least twice a week!"
Take Your Vitamins!
In addition to making lifestyle changes that increase dopamine, your body requires specific vitamins and minerals to produce this neurotransmitter at healthy levels. Certain nutrients found in supplemental form — or in the diet — also promote normal levels of dopamine. Make sure to get enough of the following:
Often called the sunshine vitamin, your body produces vitamin D naturally — but makes less in low-light conditions. This leads many people to become deficient in winter months. Vitamin D helps regulate dopamine circuits, which influences why people often become sad during the winter.[9, 10]
Low D not only reduces dopamine but can also lead to obesity! Make sure you get enough. Global Healing’s Suntrex® D3 is an organic, vegan vitamin D supplement that boosts brain and nervous system health, has a positive effect on the immune system, and promotes normal dopamine levels.
Calcium & Magnesium
Nearly half of the people in the United States consume less than the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of magnesium from their food. So many people have either deficiencies or subclinical deficiencies that global experts call it a public health emergency.
Since both calcium and magnesium promote normal dopamine levels, make sure you get enough of these essential minerals. It will help keep your mood more positive, promoting happiness and joy. They’re often sold together, and the best supplements include calcium: magnesium in a 1:1 ratio, like Global Healing’s IntraCal®.
Probiotic supplements — helpful microbes — also play a role in promoting a healthful mood.[14, 15, 16] Multiple studies have linked probiotic intake to a happier mood and improved overall mental health. Strains known to influence mental wellness are called psychobiotics.
Some strains may promote normal dopamine, such as Lactobacillus plantarum. Look for a high-quality, multi-strain formula, such as Floratrex®, a blend of prebiotics plus live cultures from 25 probiotic strains, including Lactobacillus plantarum.
When paired with black pepper (piperine), turmeric is better absorbed by the body. Look for a supplement like Global Healing’s Organic Turmeric Raw Herbal Extract™ that contains black pepper as well as Energized Trace Minerals™ to heighten absorption.
The oil of Mediterranean oregano (Origanum vulgare) can lift mood because of the way it interacts with the body system that produces dopamine. Oregano’s active ingredient, called carvacrol, has many promising health benefits.
When used regularly, carvacrol may promote normal dopamine and serotonin levels in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, parts of the brain involved in behavior and thought processes.
Points to Remember
You may not be able to buy happiness, but you can create your own! Lifestyle choices like positive thinking, filling your day with things you love, getting enough sleep, treating yourself to a mood-lifting massage, meditating, and exercising regularly can boost dopamine — and your happiness.
What do you do to create your own happiness? Do you have any tips on how to increase dopamine naturally? We’d love to hear about what works for you.
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- Cardoso CC, et al. Evidence for the involvement of the monoaminergic system in the antidepressant-like effect of magnesium. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2009 Mar 17;33(2):235-242.
- Liu WH, et al. Alteration of behavior and monoamine levels attributable to Lactobacillus plantarum PS128 in germ-free mice. Behav Brain Res. 2016 Feb 1;298(Pt B):202-209.
- McKean J, et al. Probiotics and subclinical psychological symptoms in healthy participants: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Altern Complement Med. 2017 Apr;23(4):249-258.
- Wall R, et al. Bacterial neuroactive compounds produced by psychobiotics. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2014;817:221-239.
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- Melo FH, et al. Antidepressant-like effect of carvacrol (5-Isopropyl-2-methylphenol) in mice: involvement of dopaminergic system. Fundam Clin Pharmacol. 2011 Jun;25(3):362-367.
- Zotti M, et al. Carvacrol: from ancient flavoring to neuromodulatory agent. Molecules. 2013 May 24;18(6):6161-6172.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.