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The Science of Happiness 1: What Is Happiness?

Are you happy? What makes you happy? What does happiness mean to you?

Such questions are rather confusing and require some thinking.

But this post will help you understand happiness from a scientific point of view and answer these questions with more certainty.

Four Ways to Feel Happy

The Happiness of Wanting More

Mother Nature uses this feeling of happiness to motivate you to search and find solutions to any discomfort or aim at something and achieve.

You can remind yourself of that feeling of satisfaction when you get a cold drink on a hot summer day or when you are hungry and take the first bite after waiting for a long time for your order.

It is also the pleasure you experience of searching for and finding when hunting, fishing, or gathering. This includes their modern versions like shopping (think of a sale time in a shopping mall) or playing a computer game and getting to a higher level.

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Nature built in you a mechanism of excitement, motivation, and wanting more, with the happiness hormone dopamine as a driver. It gives you excitement in expectation of a reward.

You can easily see how this promotes the survival of any living being by making the meeting of own needs pleasurable.

  • Starting from needs for food and drink,
  • including the desire for a dream partner, knowledge, or career, and
  • ending with your highest aspirations for playing a leadership role, becoming the best version of yourself, and creating a legacy –

they all are driven by dopamine, “the molecule of more.”

Happiness of Belonging

Being around familiar people and experiencing connection, belonging, and trust make you feel safe and protected.

As a parent, you experience the strongest feeling of connection during pregnancy. And this reached the apex during delivery.

Breastfeeding ensures a high level of bonding between the mother and her child.

Even if you don’t have children, you have seen how young parents adore their baby and anything and everything that the baby does.

Belonging to a group was crucial for survival from the evolutionary point of view – it was hard to survive separated from a group.

Also, the strong bond between parents and their children ensured the survival of the offspring.

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The good feeling of belonging and trust comes from the happiness hormone oxytocin.

You get used to and can experience connection with any familiar people – family, friends, or colleagues – but also with your pets (if you have any) and other animals.

Learn more about the happiness of trust and belonging here.

Enjoying Social Status

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People love recognition and respect.

Elevated social status provides us with certainty and security, whereas low social status can cause all sorts of stress.

From the evolution point of view, social security is related to higher survival chances but also better choices of a partner and offspring capable of survival.

Social status is so important to us that we constantly consciously or unconsciously compare ourselves to others and seek social dominance in many different ways, for example:

  • appearance – realize how much attention we pay to our clothing, make-up, skincare, jewelry, tattoos, and so on
  • power status in a particular group – seeking respect in your relationships, family, at work, pursuing a career, and bothering about likes and the number of followers on social media
  • wealth – enjoying acquiring and possessing expensive and/or branded objects like clothing, cars, houses, yachts, planes, and so on
  • education level – college or university degrees, especially at a prestigious university, acquiring a Ph.D. or being a professor is highly respected even though they do not guarantee a high income or the best career chances
  • level of skills – think how you appreciate a salesperson who gave you the best advice on your purchase, a trustworthy repair shop where you bring your car or a surgeon known as the best in his specialty area

And if you are a parent, then without a doubt, you are most proud of the uniqueness and achievements of your children and get equally upset about their setbacks.

Oblivion masking pain

This type of happiness is well known to you if you run longer distances. When you get tired but keep running, you will reach a point of feeling high.

The same type of euphoria you can experience working out hard.

This happens because your body produces endorphins to mask the acute physical pain. They are called “nature’s morphine.”

Masking physical pain had an important survival role in allowing an injured person to reach a safe place or home where the wounds could be treated and healed.

You also experience a little endorphin-type happiness when you laugh or cry.

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Learn more about this innate painkiller and how to use it to live a happier life here.

All Shades of Happiness

Various emotions can be different expressions of happiness. It depends on your emotional vocabulary, which words you use, and how often.

Those emotions can represent happiness created (mainly) by one specific hormone or a combination of hormones. For example:

The Happiness of Wanting More (Dopamine)

Motivation, inspiration, excitement, enthusiasm, eagerness, anticipation, drive, determination, being on fire, and elation

The Happiness of Belonging (Oxytocin)

Trust, connection, bonding, ties, relationship, fellowship, partnership, friendship, family, attachment, union, closeness, link, click

The Happiness of Social Dominance (Serotonin)

Contentment, satisfaction, fulfillment, gratification, pride, confidence, (self-)respect, (self-)esteem, (self-)worth, (self-)regard, dignity, ego

Oblivion Masking Pain (Endorphins)

Forgiveness, unconsciousness, understanding, tolerance, mercy, forgetfulness, pity

A cocktail of happiness hormones can create such emotions or states of your mind, like joy, delight, peace, pleasure, well-being, optimism, love, or gratitude. The recipe of the cocktail will depend on the following:

  • on your personality (or what you are used to experiencing) and
  • the situation in which you experience that state of mind or emotion.

The Happiness of Love

Love is a cocktail of happiness. Depending on the phase of your relationship and the situation, it will be a different cocktail.

In the beginning, you want to win the heart of the object of your desire – you are motivated and determined to pursue your goal and want more from the relationship. This is a high-dopamine phase of the relationship, though other hormones are also present.

In a healthy relationship from the beginning, you experience recognition and respect (serotonin-happiness).

With time, you get familiar with each other and create trust. Oxytocin helps to sustain the relationship. Human levels of oxytocin are so high that they are responsible for making us monogamous.

And finally, oblivion (endorphins) helps us to overcome hurt in the relationship.

The Happiness of Gratitude

Research shows that the most intense gratitude is experienced when you become aware of other people’s gratitude towards you. (Read here how to practice this most efficient form of gratitude.)

Such deep gratitude combines the happiness of being recognized, belonging and trust, the satisfaction of achievement and motivation to carry on, and even the oblivion of hardship on the way to success. So, you can savor a cocktail of all four happiness hormones.

Happiness is Important for Survival

Human beings are wired to experience happiness in particular ways. Specific conditions will support the release of happiness hormones that make you feel good.

Happiness is typical not only for humans. Evolution invented happiness as a reward for taking action:

  • to protect your own life (survival) and
  • ensure reproduction and passing on your own genes (survival of your genes)

So, it is essential to understand that nature’s happiness mechanisms are not meant to make your life happy.

Can happiness exist without sadness?

Sadness and happiness belong together. They are like a seesaw and serve precisely the same purpose. You get uncomfortable, stressed, and upset when something is wrong or missing. This immediately draws your attention, so you look for ways to become comfortable again. And when you find a way, you feel relief and satisfaction.

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The Science of Happiness 1: What Is Happiness? 7

This is especially easy to observe in babies. They get utterly upset when hungry, want attention, or anything else, and then they switch immediately to being happy when their need is fulfilled.

So, both unhappiness and happiness motivate you to take action and move you in precisely the same direction – away from pain toward pleasure. This ensures the survival of any animal, including humans.

Is everyone happy in the same way?

The ways you feel happy are determined in the first place by the survival mechanisms, which are the same for each human being.

Personalized Ways of Happiness

But they will be personalized during your early life experience – the ways you learned from your caregivers or the ways that were accessible in your childhood. For example, I learned from my grandfather to be excited about my birthdays, whereas the norm is instead to be concerned about getting older.

When your individual ways of happiness are set, they become familiar, easy, and automatic.

By knowing your habitual ways of happiness, you can start creating additional ways using the full potential of the four types of happiness hormones.

Maladaptive Ways of Happiness

The automatic ways to create happiness can also be maladaptive and cause issues in the long run – for example, overeating, smoking, overthinking, and fear of challenging situations.

It is hard to change habitual behaviors because they become unconscious. But with the help of hypnotherapy, you can accomplish what you’ve been longing for a long time easily, fast, and with sustainable results.

I offer a one-month hypnotherapy and coaching program. During this program, we work on negative beliefs originating from childhood and limiting habits in your current life. This program allows my clients to create a desired lasting transformation quickly.


The following four biological pathways have been helping living beings survive and reproduce by making them happy:

  • wanting more (dopamine)
  • feeling belonging and trust (oxytocin)
  • experiencing social dominance (serotonin)
  • oblivion masking pain (endorphins)

You may experience them in pure form or a gourmet cocktail, like an experience of love or gratitude.

Though happiness is based on your basic survival instincts, you have personalized ways of happiness that you learned from your caregivers or under the influence of your early childhood experiences.

You can expand your experience of happiness using the full potential of all four happiness hormones.

In the next post, I will write about the traps in the pursuit of happiness and how to hack the nature of happiness to have a happier life.

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  1. Great article! It’s fascinating to learn about the scientific underpinnings of happiness. The role of dopamine in motivating us to seek out and achieve goals is particularly interesting.

    I think this helps to explain why some people are more motivated than others. Those who have a stronger dopamine response may be more likely to set ambitious goals and pursue them with vigor.

    Of course, happiness is not just about achieving goals. It’s also about finding meaning and purpose in life. But I think the pursuit of goals can be a powerful source of happiness, as it allows us to feel a sense of accomplishment and progress.

    I’m also interested in the idea that happiness can be a learned behavior. If we can train ourselves to focus on the positive aspects of our lives and to appreciate the small things, we may be able to increase our overall level of happiness.

    Thank you for sharing this informative article!

    1. Hi Lisandra, the following posts go into detail about learning to be happy.
      And there will be a post about meaning and purpose in life because those indeed determine the depth of our happiness.

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