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The D.O.S.E of "Happy Chemicals": Understanding the Science of Joy

Happiness is a universal pursuit that has intrigued humanity for centuries. What brings joy, contentment, and fulfilment into our lives?

Scientists have been studying the complex neurochemical processes behind happiness, and their findings have revealed fascinating insights into what makes us happy.

Among the many neurotransmitters and hormones involved, four key players are often referred to as the "Happy Chemicals": Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins, forming the acronym D.O.S.E.

Understanding how these chemicals work in our brains can offer valuable insights into the science of joy.

Dopamine: The Reward Molecule

Dopamine is often associated with motivation and reward. When we experience something enjoyable or rewarding, our brain sends out a burst of dopamine, which is like a little pat on the back. It's like our brain's way of saying, "Hey, you're doing great! Keep it up!"

Whether it's receiving a compliment, completing a task, or accomplishing a goal, the surge of dopamine provides a sense of pleasure and encourages us to repeat those activities.

The cool thing is that dopamine motivates us to repeat those enjoyable activities, so it's like a natural cheerleader cheering us on to keep doing what makes us happy. However, it is essential to keep things in balance. When we go overboard chasing dopamine, like getting addicted to substances or binge eating, it can bring some harmful consequences.

Oxytocin: The Love Hormone

Oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone”, is associated with emotional connections and social bonding. It plays a crucial role in forming and maintaining relationships, promoting trust, empathy, and intimacy.

Oxytocin is released during moments of physical touch, such as hugging, cuddling, or bonding with a loved one. It not only deepens our emotional connections but also contributes to stress reduction and an overall sense of wellbeing.

So, next time you're having a heartwarming moment with someone you love, remember that it's the love hormone oxytocin doing its thing!

Serotonin: The Mood Stabiliser

Serotonin is often called the “mood stabiliser” because it helps regulate mood, emotions, and sleep. It plays a vital role in balancing anxiety, depression, and overall emotional wellbeing. Adequate levels of serotonin are essential for a positive outlook on life and the ability to handle stress effectively.

Serotonin influences the production of melatonin by being converted into melatonin during the evening and night, playing a crucial role in regulating our sleep-wake cycle and promoting healthy sleep patterns.

There are some fun and easy ways to give our serotonin levels a boost! Getting out and about in nature, breaking a sweat with some exercise, or simply practising mindfulness can all work wonders for our mood.

Endorphins: The Natural Painkillers

Imagine this: You're going through a tough time, and suddenly, you feel a wave of relief washing over you. That's our friendly endorphins working their magic!

Endorphins are the body's natural painkillers, and they are released in response to stress or pain. They have this incredible ability to soothe discomfort and induce feelings of euphoria and pleasure. Endorphins are commonly associated with the "runner's high" experienced during intense exercise.

Studies found that 30 minutes of walking for 10 days straight was sufficient to produce a reduction in clinically depressed subjects.

It's not just exercise that gets these magical chemicals going. Laughter and certain foods can also trigger the release of endorphins. So, the next time you're cracking up or savouring a treat, remember that those little mood-lifters are at work.

Creating a Balance for Sustainable Happiness

In conclusion, understanding our neurochemical processes empowers us to make smarter choices and level up our wellbeing for a more fulfilling life. Pursuing a healthy lifestyle that incorporates activities like exercise, spending time with loved ones, and engaging in hobbies can lead to a consistent elevation of these neurotransmitters.

But hey, we're all unique and different, right? What makes one person's heart dance with joy might not have the same effect on another. Science gives us the lowdown on the biological side of things, but there's no one-size-fits-all solution to being happy.

Cultivating happiness also involves understanding ourselves, our values, and our unique sources of joy. It's about finding a balance between seeking pleasure and fulfilment while maintaining emotional resilience in the face of challenges.

About the Writer

Jeannette Qhek is the Wellbeing Lead at Actxa Wellness, where she curates the wellness curriculum with relevant science-backed content. Extremely passionate about the psychology behind human behaviour, she is now pursuing her Master's in Counselling with Monash University. Her other passion is content creation, and she is part of Tiktok's team of Youth for Good Wellness Education. As part of this exciting journey, she created "Chill By Nette", an online wellness space to share her resources and learnings. Through sharing her voice and creativity, she hopes to make psychological concepts and wellness research knowledge more accessible and fun to the public.

Connect more with Jeannette Qhek here ➡️


[1] Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 6(3), 104–111.


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