Health & Science

How Your Family Can Hack Happiness Chemicals

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It turns out there are four naturally-occurring chemicals responsible for helping you feel good — and endless ways to boost them naturally. Together, they’re sometimes referred to as D.O.S.E.

> Dopamine, aka The Reward Feeling — Motivates you to form habits & reach goals by rewarding completion of tasks and pleasurable activities.

> Oxytocin, aka The Loving Feeling — Released by physical contact and social connections.

> Serotonin, aka The Mood Booster — Connected to pride, satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, and recognition.

> Endorphins, aka The No-Pain Feeling — Relieves pain when we’re stressed or uncomfortable (including the “pain” from things like deep belly laughs).

Each of these brain chemicals plays a role in how you experience happiness. Below are some fun, easy ideas for giving yourself and your children a happiness boost the way nature intended.

Get a FREE printable of this info, too—put it up in a spot where everyone in your family will see it every day. The daily reminders of simple ways parents and kids can hack happiness will keep everyone’s mood lifted!

DOPAMINE

The rewarding feeling that comes from self-care or a sense of accomplishment.

Parents

  • Break big goals into small tasks so you can enjoy a series of mini-wins! 
  • Respond to an email or complete one item on your to-do list.
  • Take a long shower or bath.
  • Finish a level on your favorite game.
  • Read a great book or listen to music.
  • Enjoy a favorite treat or beverage once the kids are in bed.
  • Pick up the kids on time — with a minute to spare!

Kids

  • Get homework done early.
  • Organize their toys or a bookshelf.
  • Curl up with a lovey to watch a movie.
  • Indulge in a favorite snack in the middle of a busy day.
  • Take five big belly breaths.
  • High-five each time they tie their own shoes, brush their teeth, or buckle their safety belt.

OXYTOCIN

The loving feeling that accompanies the warm fuzzies or personal connection.

Parents

  • Initiate a hug that lasts six seconds or more.
  • Spend time with the bestie you haven’t seen in a while.  
  • Watch your Mom or Dad love on your child.
  • Compliment your child to another person and let them overhear it.
  • Bond with your child or partner by discussing a shared memory.
  • Give someone a gift, or tell them how you feel about them.
  • Visit a public place where other people are.
  • Listen to your child with your full attention.

Kids

  • Bear-hug your family — everybody, all at once.
  • Groom or snuggle the family pet.
  • Tell someone 3 things you love about them.
  • Invite a friend over for a playdate…
  • …then compliment your pal when she’s there.
  • Help a parent or caregiver with a chore.
  • Leave sweet notes or drawings around the house for the family to find.

SEROTONIN

The mood stabilizer that makes everything seem better.

Parents

  • Enjoy a walk outside, surrounded by nature. Bonus if it’s sunny out.
  • Go for a swim at a local pool, lake, or beach.
  • Meditate for 10 minutes or take a yoga class.
  • Take a leisurely bike ride.
  • Consume some probiotics (yogurt, kombucha, pickles, etc).
  • Name three things you’re grateful for.
  • Reflect on a past accomplishment.

Kids

  • Go on a nature scavenger hunt.
  • Play in the bathtub.
  • Name 3 things you’re good at.
  • Listen to a kid-friendly meditation or take a kids yoga class.
  • Bike to the playground or your best friend’s house.
  • Ask if you can have some fish tacos, bell peppers, cauliflower, or yogurt to eat.
  • Think about your “happy place,” a fun vacation you took, or another favorite memory.

ENDORPHINS

The body’s natural pain killer that triggers positive feelings.

Parents

  • Watch your favorite comedy movie or show.
  • Ask your partner for a massage, or do some stretches.
  • Initiate an adults-only rendezvous with your significant other.
  • Have a good cry.
  • Smell euphoric essential oils like lavender, rosemary, or citrus scents.
  • Go for a run or perform your favorite workout.
  • Start a text thread with family or friends to share funny gifs and memes.
  • Eat something spicy.

Kids

  • Make up jokes, read a joke book, or check out a free kids jokes app — then host a family comedy hour.
  • Turn on some music and have your own personal dance party.
  • Re-watch the funniest movie you ever saw.
  • Ask for something yummy that’s made with dark chocolate.
  • Perform a random act of kindness.
  • Play tag or any game that gets your body moving.
  • Stretch your arms and legs for 5 minutes.

We can all use more joy and contentment in our lives— parents and kids alike. Don’t forget to get your free printable version of this info so you can keep the joy flowing in your house every day!


Dealing with school closures, childcare issues, or other challenges related to coronavirus? Find support, advice, activities to keep kids entertained, learning opportunities and more in our Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic Facebook Group.

For ongoing updates on coronavirus-related issues and questions that impact children and families, please find additional resources here.




The former Content Director at Parenting, parenting.com and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.