Understand These Two Neurotransmitters to Live a Happy Life

Understand These Two Neurotransmitters to Live a Happy Life

Years ago when I went to lots of business seminars, around 40 per year, we learned the logic and structure of how to build a business, and a second part that went beyond how to make money. That was actually the most important part because if you could get that right it increased your chances of building a successful business in the long term tremendously.

It doesn’t take a naive approach saying we will always be in balance if we are entrepreneurs, but we can easily get back into balance very quickly when we take a shift away from equilibrium, if you understand what I’m about to teach you.

During those seminars the successful speakers would have a common adage that said, “don’t seek pleasure, seek happiness.”

It really helped many of us stay focused and become better leaders even though I didn’t understand how or why it worked. I’m about to explain just that. By knowing the process of how your mind and body creates and process two separate neurotransmitters you will never need to worry about how to find happiness again. Lets understand the difference between pleasure and happiness and then move into these two brain chemicals.

What is the difference between pleasure and happiness in psychology?

In psychology, pleasure and happiness are distinct concepts, although they are often confused. Let’s explore their differences:


  • Definition: Pleasure refers to a temporary feeling of satisfaction or enjoyment. It is associated with immediate sensory experiences or external stimuli.
  • Examples of Pleasure:
    • Eating a delicious meal.
    • Listening to music.
    • Experiencing sexual pleasure.
  • Neurotransmitter: Pleasure is primarily mediated by dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with reward, motivation, and pleasure-seeking behavior.
  • Duration: Pleasure is short-term and often linked to specific activities or events.


  • Definition: Happiness is a long-lasting state of being content, fulfilled, and satisfied. It encompasses a broader range of emotions beyond mere pleasure.
  • Components of Happiness:
    • Joy: A sense of delight or positive emotion.
    • Gratitude: Appreciation for what one has.
    • Satisfaction: Feeling fulfilled with life.
    • Meaningful Relationships: Connection with others.
  • Neurotransmitters: Happiness is associated with neurotransmitters such as serotonin (linked to connection and well-being) and acetylcholine (involved in relaxation).
  • Duration: Happiness is more stable and enduring compared to pleasure.

To recap:

  • Pleasure provides spikes of joy and satisfaction, often related to immediate sensory experiences.
  • Happiness is a steady, internal state characterized by contentment, meaningful connections, and overall well-being.

Serotonin is the “contentment” neurotransmitter.

Serotonin is the “contentment” neurotransmitter that tells our brains we don’t need any more; yet its deficiency leads to depression. Ideally, both are in optimal supply in our brain. Dopamine evolved to overwhelm serotonin—because our ancestors were more likely to survive if they were constantly motivated—with the result that constant desire can chemically destroy our ability to feel happiness, while sending us down the slippery slope to addiction.

Serotonin, the “contentment” neurotransmitter tells our brains we don’t need any more; yet its deficiency leads to depression (caused by too much dopamine). There’s no such thing as overdosing on too much happiness but there’s one thing that downregulates serotonin, and that’s dopamine.

That means the more pleasure you seek the more unhappy you get. Differences are reward and contentment, pleasure and happiness. The soft drink Coca Cola does not give you happiness, it gives you pleasure. In order to feel the contentment of dopamine don’t chase pleasure (dopamine), it will make you unhappier.

Dopamine is an “excitatory” neurotransmitter.

Dopamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter. Neurons like to be excited and tickled but they don’t like to be bludgeoned. Chronic overstimulation of any neuron in the body leads to neuronal cell death. Because neurons are so metabolically active, If you keep it up neurons will basically exhaust and die.

In the event of neuronal cell death, even though you have lots of dopamine molecules, you have fewer receptors. This means there’s less chance that any molecules will find the receptor. And so the postsynaptic neuron that has the dopamine receptors on it, has a fail safe. It has a protective mechanism in order not to be overwhelmed. What it does is it down-regulates the dopamine receptor.

So, even though you have lots of ligands, lots of dopamine molecules, you have fewer receptors, which means there’s less chance that any molecule will find the receptor. And what that means in human terms is you need more and more to get less and less. And that’s the phenomenon we call tolerance.

What is addiction?

So dopamine leads to tolerance, which in this case is a bad thing. Because of chronic overstimulation or bludgeoning, those neurons will actually start to exhaust and die. That’s called addiction. What that means in human terms is you need more and more to get less and less.

Can dead neurons recover?

In the brain, the damaged cells are nerve cells (brain cells) known as neurons and neurons cannot regenerate. The damaged area gets necrosed (tissue death) and it is never the same as it was before.

7 differences between dopamine (pleasure) and serotonin (happiness). 

1. Pleasure is short term like a meal, happiness is long term like a lifetime. 

2. Pleasure is visceral you feel it in your body, happiness is ethereal you feel it above the neck. 

3. Pleasure is taking, like from the casino, happiness is giving like habitat for humanity. 

4. Pleasure is achieved alone like eating a chocolate cake, happiness is achieved in a social group like in a birthday party. 

5. Pleasure is achievable with substances like cocaine, heroine, nicotine, alcohol, sugar, and some addictive behaviors. Happiness is not achievable with substances. 

6. The extremes of pleasure, whether it being substances (cocaine) or behaviors like shopping, gambling, social media, internet, gaming, pornography, foody, in the extreme they are addictive. There’s the suffix holic after every one of these things shopaholic, alcoholic, sexaholic, chocoholic, etc., but there’s no such thing as being addicted to too much happiness. 

7. Pleasure is dopamine and happiness is serotonin. They are produced in two different neurotransmitter areas of the brain, regulatory pathways, mechanism of actions, and drivers. 

Happiness and contentment are nuanced experiences, and understanding them goes beyond mere neurotransmitters. Let’s explore how to recognize these states:


  • Definition: Contentment is being at peace with what you have, who you are, and where you are in life.
  • Signs of Contentment:
    • Feeling grateful for what you’ve achieved.
    • Accepting the present without complacency.
    • Trusting that life’s turns will be for the best.
    • Appreciating the journey rather than focusing solely on the destination.


  • Definition: Happiness is a broader emotional state that includes joy, satisfaction, and overall well-being.
  • Signs of Happiness:
    • Feeling positive emotions.
    • Letting go of cravings for what you can’t have.
    • Accepting your situation and finding peace.
    • Being grateful for what you do have.


  • Pause and Reflect: Take moments to assess your feelings.
  • Ask Yourself:
    • “Am I at peace with my present?”
    • “Do I feel content with what I have?”
    • “Is there a sense of acceptance and trust?”
    • “Am I allowing myself to be happy?”

Remember, both happiness and contentment are internal states. They involve acceptance, gratitude, and a positive attitude toward life. Trust your inner wisdom to recognize these feelings.

If you’ve read this far then you may like to dive deeper into learning more about how to be happy as well as the negative effects of the overstimulation of dopamine. It is becoming more of a problem every year. Take a look at these 3 books:

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence

The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains

Some of the ways to boost your serotonin: 

Diet, Exercise, Bright light, Supplements, Massage, Mood induction, Manage stress, Sleep deprivation.

Supplements that have been known to increase serotonin.

Some dietary supplements may help the production and release of serotonin by increasing tryptophan.

Before trying a new supplement, it’s best to check with a healthcare professional because some supplements may interact negatively with other medications and remedies.

Keep in mind that supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It may be best to choose supplements that undergo quality control through third-party agencies to ensure they contain the ingredients listed on the label in the correct amounts.

Always read the label and take the recommended dosage. Research suggests the following supplements may help increase serotonin and reduce symptoms of depression.

Pure Tryptophan
Tryptophan supplements contain more tryptophan than food, making them more likely to reach your brain. A 2021 review suggests tryptophan supplements can improve mood and decrease anxiety, though more research is needed.

SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine)
SAMe appears to help increase serotonin and may improve depression symptoms. Consider speaking with a healthcare professional before taking it with any other supplements or medications that increase serotonin, including certain antidepressants and antipsychotics.

The supplement 5-HTP can easily enter your brain and produce serotonin. A 2021 review suggests it may benefit those with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. Other research on 5-HTP suggests longer treatment duration studies are needed.

St. John’s Wort
While this St. John’s Wort seems to improve symptoms of depression for some people, research hasn’t shown consistent results. It also may not be ideal for long-term use.

Note that St. John’s Wort can make certain medications, including some cancer drugs and hormonal birth control, less effective.

People on blood clotting medication should not take St. John’s Wort as it interferes with the drug’s effectiveness. You also shouldn’t take it with medications, particularly antidepressants, that increase serotonin.

Research suggests getting more probiotics in your diet may increase tryptophan in your blood, helping more of it reach your brain. The gut provides approximately 95% of total body serotonin, most of which exists in plasma.1 

You can take probiotic supplements or eat probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt, and fermented foods, like kimchi or sauerkraut.

Does overthinking deplete serotonin?

Overthinking leads to an imbalance in neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, etc. that can harm the brain’s memory and feeling systems.


  1. Appleton J. (2018). The Gut-Brain Axis: Influence of Microbiota on Mood and Mental Health. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.)17(4), 28–32. ↩︎
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Created by Martin Hamilton