Healthy Mind

4 Joy Practices To Naturally Boost Levels of *Every* Feel-Good Hormone

Erica Sloan

Getty Images/bojanstory
As the founder and CEO of Daybreaker—a company built on the concept of sober, dancing-induced euphoriaRadha Agrawal knows a thing or two about experiencing a natural high. It was in designing Daybreaker's sunrise dance parties that she first learned about each of the feel-good hormones typically responsible for that happy feeling. “I realized that if you lay them out side-by-side, they spell ‘dose:’ dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, endorphins,” she says. “And we can give ourselves an actual dose of joy by doing practices that boost each one of them.”

Essentially, these feel-good hormones act as neurotransmitters, sending positive, happiness-supportive signals to the brain—and it's possible for you to boost your levels of each one of them. Parsing out their unique benefits and what, exactly, triggers their release is what led Agrawal to her latest venture, Daybreaker+ (an online version of Daybreaker for the pandemic era) and the science behind it, which she calls the D.O.S.E. method.

"A lot of real joy can come from activating the body-brain connection through movement." —happiness expert Radha Agrawal

As you might guess, the method's acronym stands for the joyful neurotransmitters themselves. And the various activities and classes featured on the platform—which include things like meditation, yoga, qigong, and, of course, dance—are grouped based on the neurotransmitter they’re most likely to support. “So much of the world of joy gets stuck above the neck and intellectualized,” says Agrawal. “But we’ve actually found that a lot of real joy can come from activating the body-brain connection through movement.”

To develop the joy practices on the Daybreaker+ network, Agrawal consulted with psychologist Dacher Keltner, PhD, founder of the University of California Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and host of The Science of Happiness podcast. “This concept [of D.O.S.E.] is based on extensive literature mapping distinct positive emotions to each of the different neurotransmitters—for example, enthusiasm to dopamine, or love and compassion to oxytocin,” says Dr. Keltner.

He also collaborated with Agrawal to develop a happiness blueprint quiz that helps determine which of the four feel-good hormones you may be lacking (and prescribes classes and activities to replenish it) using a few questions about your mental state and goals. But as we continue to inch through a stress-inducing pandemic and toward the shorter, dimmer days of winter, it surely wouldn’t hurt to up your levels of all four. To that end, Agrawal shares four tried-and-true joy practices that can naturally boost your feel-good hormones, below.

Here are 4 joy practices designed to boost each of the feel-good hormones

Singing in the shower: Dopamine

Known for its major energizing effect, dopamine functions like an upper: It’s that rush-of-happiness feeling you might get from recalling, living, or anticipating something super-satisfying.

To re-juice your levels, Agrawal suggests belting out the lyrics to your favorite song in the shower—mostly because the acoustics make you less likely to start self-analyzing your own singing ability. “Research on vocal toning suggests that hearing and experiencing the vibrations of your own voice can boost feelings of joy, but also, singing in the shower is a practice of courage and communication,” she says.

Self-massage: Oxytocin

You might know oxytocin as the cuddle hormone because it often stems from human connection or touch, and it tends to trigger feelings of being loved, secure, and comfortable. But you don’t necessarily need another person to boost your levels, says Agrawal, who recommends gentle self-massage, focusing on the face.

“Take your index fingers, and start at the center point of your eyebrows, and then trace your brows, moving toward your temples, which you can massage in small circles,” she says. Another option? Simply cup your cheeks in the palms of your hands for 15 seconds, or give yourself a hug by crossing your arms and squeezing your shoulders, then move down your arms for about seven to 15 seconds, Agrawal suggests.

Fake-smiling: Serotonin

Perhaps the most famous of the feel-good hormones for generating a sense of all-around ease and contentment is serotonin, which is linked to a whole host of bodily functions beyond boosting happiness, like aiding the digestive process and mediating blood pressure. As for how its effect can manifest in your mood, however, it’s typically present when you feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself—and when you’re grateful for your role in life, says Agrawal.

While spending time in bright sunshine has been shown to boost serotonin levels, come winter, it’s tougher to do a whole lot of that. So, Agrawal recommends another foolproof strategy: Trick yourself into a happier perception of the world with a fake smile. “Just put on a cheesy ear-to-ear grin for about five to seven seconds, and typically, that’ll turn into a real smile or a laugh, which can start releasing serotonin all the same,” she says.

Dancing: Endorphins

You might associate endorphins with a runner’s high, and while you can certainly go on a run to help release more of them, any type of heart-pumping physical activity you like can do the trick. The key is for it to be something during which your brain can fully tune out—such as dancing with reckless abandon, like you might at a wild concert or just whenever no one else is watching.

“Find a mirror, choose one song that you love, and have a dance party while you watch yourself,” Agrawal suggests. And whenever there’s an instrumental break, take a few seconds to say a positive affirmation, like “I am beautiful,” “I am worthy,” or “I am enough,” she adds.

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