Serotonin 101: Unlocking the Secrets of the Happiness Hormone

Simple daily habits to harness your happy hormone!

By: Lexy Parsons

What if you could ‘hack’ your happiness to experience more frequent and intense feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and well-being? Well, thanks to our neurotransmitters, it turns out, you can! Certain neurotransmitters in the brain — including serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins — are primarily responsible for regulating feelings of happiness, satisfaction, and mood. Dopamine and endorphins, nicknamed our “feel-good” hormones, are best known for their role in regulating motivation, pleasure, and pain relief. As for regulating happiness, mood, and mental health? We have serotonin to thank for that! While all of these neurotransmitters work together to regulate our emotions and overall well-being, optimizing serotonin is key when it comes to boosting happiness.

Luckily, there are natural ways to boost serotonin levels in the brain through simple lifestyle modifications, such as practicing meditation, engaging in regular exercise, and making dietary changes. By optimizing your serotonin levels through these practices, research shows you may be able to enhance your mental health and happiness

Ahead, everything you need to know about how to unlock your “happy hormone” — serotonin! Including, what it is, how it works, and the best natural ways to boost it.

But first, what is serotonin?

What is Serotonin?

Serotonin, also known as the “happy hormone,” plays a significant role in regulating mood, appetite, and sleep. This neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger used to transmit signals to other neurons) is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan, which is obtained through the diet. It’s primarily produced in the gut, where it helps to promote feelings of happiness, well-being, and relaxation.

Once produced, serotonin is released into the bloodstream and carried to different parts of the body, where it acts on specific receptors to produce various effects.

With so many important functions, let’s dive a little deeper.

3 Surprising Facts About Serotonin 

#1 Serotonin is Responsible For Regulating Happiness & Well-Being

To no surprise, one of the main functions of serotonin is to regulate mood and emotional state! This is where it gets its name, “the happy hormone,” as it helps to promote feelings of happiness, contentment, and relaxation. 

#2 The Majority of Serotonin Is Produced in the Gut (Not The Brain!)

While a small amount of serotonin is produced in tissues like the brain, approximately 95% of serotonin is produced in the gut! This is important for several reasons. First, serotonin plays a crucial role in gastrointestinal (GI) function and metabolism — it’s been shown to promote intestinal motility, enhance nutrient absorption, and regulate appetite and digestion. 

And if you’ve heard of the gut-brain connection, this is the link! Interestingly, there is a bidirectional communication pathway between the gut and the brain, known as the gut-brain axis. The gut produces and sends signals to the brain, and the brain can also influence the gut’s activities. This communication system is essential for maintaining a healthy gut and overall body function, where it’s been shown to regulate the immune system, manage stress, and ensure proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. In fact, the gut-brain axis has become a crucial area of study for researchers looking to understand the underlying mechanisms of various digestive and mental health conditions. 

#3 Serotonin & Melatonin Are Closely Related, Thus It Helps with Sleep!

Serotonin and melatonin (our sleep hormone) are closely related, as melatonin is derived from serotonin and plays a role in regulating sleep. When serotonin levels are high, they can be converted into melatonin, helping to promote a restful night of sleep.

And when it comes to regulating our sleep-wake cycle, both hormones are understandably important. Unlike melatonin, which is highest at night, serotonin levels are typically highest during the day when we’re awake and active. When balanced, serotonin should decrease as melatonin begins to rise (thus, helping prepare our body for sleep). But, when serotonin is deficient, research shows that it can lead to a disruption in the sleep-wake cycle, causing difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. 

Boosting Serotonin Levels Naturally 

#1 Opt for Daily Sunlight Exposure

Did you know that daily sunlight could boost your serotonin levels? Ideally, try to get sunlight exposure in the morning, as this can help to regulate your body’s internal clock and promote better sleep at night!

#2 Exercise Regularly

Research has shown that exercise — especially aerobic exercise like running (we all know and love that runner’s high!) — can increase the production and release of serotonin in the brain. So if you’re wondering why you feel so good after a workout, now you know!

RELATED: 5 Feel-Good Workouts To Boost Your Mood in Under 30 Minutes

#3 Manage Stress

While chronic stress has been shown to decrease serotonin levels, indulging in stress-reducing activities like meditation and self-care can help naturally boost serotonin levels! This could be taking a warm bath, listening to music, practicing yoga, or spending time with loved ones.

RELATED: 10 Stress-Reducing Superfoods to Add to Your Diet

#4 Nourish Your Gut 

Going back to the gut-brain connection, a gut-healthy, balanced diet can help promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, which in turn can help to produce more serotonin.

This includes foods such as: Fibrous fruits and veggies, whole grains, and fermented foods rich in probiotics like yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut.

RELATED: The Best Foods For a Healthier Gut According to an RD

#5 Prioritize The Basics

We can’t forget about the basics when it comes to finding balance and supporting healthy serotonin levels. Be sure you’re fueling your body with nutrient-dense foods, keeping your blood sugar levels stable, optimizing your sleep habits, and doing more of the things that bring you joy!

How to Harness The Benefits Of Your Happy Hormone For a Happy, Healthy Life

From regulating our mood and happiness to promoting restful sleep and aiding in digestion, serotonin plays a crucial role in our overall well-being. And supporting the benefits of this happiness hormone can be as simple as incorporating daily serotonin-boosting practices (such as regular exercise, exposure to sunlight, and increased consumption of tryptophan-rich foods) into your routine! So, whether you’re looking to relieve stress, boost your mood, or simply bring more ease into your day, these serotonin hacks are a great place to start. Start incorporating them into your daily routine and feel the positive effects radiate through your body and mind!