Hacking Happiness

We generally think of our brains as control centers — sending messages that tell our limbs how to move, our eyes what to see, our nerves how to feel. They’re like little computers perched up there on our necks.

What we often skip over, though, is that — like computers — our brain’s output is determined by input.

And that means we can hack them.

Researchers have isolated four of the major brain chemicals involved in creating feelings of happiness: dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin, and serotonin. These neurotransmitters can be intentionally activated by certain behaviors — all of which are relatively simple … and seriously effective.

When we are dysregulated or in a heightened emotional state, it is more difficult to connect with others, to relate to people or information, and to learn new things. And let’s face it: Being in school or at work can be frustrating, boring, or stressful, and all of these feelings can cut us off and shut us down.

So next time you’re feeling unmotivated, sad, bored, or anxious, use this chart to help you identify which chemicals you need and how to send the commands to your brain to get them.


“the motivation hormone”

Linked to feelings of satisfaction

When you need it

  • you’re struggling to start or complete a task

How to get it

  • take a protein-rich snack break
  • create or look at art
  • complete a small goal (like, “stand up and move around a bit”)
  • celebrate your achievements
  • get a massage


“the relax hormone”

Linked to emotional and physical pain reduction

When you need it

  • you’re stressed and jumpy

How to get it

  • 30 minutes of exercise or dance
  • yoga or stretching
  • watch a funny (or thrilling!) movie
  • take a bath with Epsom salts,
    vanilla, and lavender
  • eat dark chocolate


“the cuddle hormone”

Linked to feelings of safety, security, and being loved

When you need it

  • you’re stressed and grumpy

How to get it

  • pet an animal
  • wrap yourself in a soft blanket
  • give someone a hug, handshake, fist bump, etc.
  • give someone a compliment
  • listen to “feel good” music


“the happy hormone”

Linked to feelings of balance and well-being

When you need it

  • you’re feeling overwhelmed or depressed

How to get it

  • get some sunshine or vitamin D
  • meditate
  • visualize yourself in a happy memory
  • express gratitude (“I am grateful for ___ because ___”)
  • snack on sunflower seeds, cheese, or edamame

Be All You Can Be

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