What happens inside when a person laughs? And what if they're sad? Which hormones tell us to laugh or be sad?

Expert Answers
teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First, let's discuss hormones. There are four hormones which influence our happiness. You can remember them with the acronym DOSE:


The release of dopamine is all about anticipation; high dopamine levels are closely associated with the motivation to accomplish goals and the subsequent act of bringing those goals to fruition. On the other hand, procrastination and lack of motivation are linked with lower levels of dopamine.


Oxytocin is released when we are close to someone or when we are closely bonded with someone that we love. The release of oxytocin is experienced as a pleasurable and joyful feeling. Oxytocin is released during the sex act, and mothers who nurse their infants experience oxytocin rushes which motivate them to respond more effectively to their baby's needs. One of the most effective ways to increase oxytocin levels in our body is by simply giving someone a hug or even a simple gift.


Serotonin is released when we feel significant or accomplished. We can increase serotonin levels in our body by remembering our past accomplishments or recalling moments when we felt especially significant. It could be memories of graduation from high school or college, of winning the spelling bee, of winning a scholarship, or even of inventing a simple way to make pasta taste better. Experts believe that low levels of serotonin can contribute to depression, which explains why someone can be depressed after a job loss or a divorce.


These hormones are released as response to a fight or flight situation, especially during periods of stress or anxiety. Endorphins have quite the same effect as morphine, which dulls our perception of pain. Ways to increase endorphins in our body include indulging in aromatherapy (lavender and vanilla are purported to increase the release of endorphins), eating foods like chocolate, and even watching a great comedy, or sharing a laugh with someone.

To continue my explanation, hormones cannot tell us whether to be sad or happy. The good news is (as I explained above), our actions can influence our tendency to be happy or sad.

You also may be interested to know that the build-up of cortisol (a hormone released by the adrenal glands) in the blood can lead to depression in some people. In such patients, the hypothalamus (the part of our brain which regulates the production of cortisol in the glands) is failing in its task to properly monitor the levels of cortisol production. Again here, medical experts believe that our behavior/actions can affect our brain chemistry. It may encourage you to know that much of the time, you have the power to choose whether you are happy or sad.

You can read more at the links below. Thanks for the question!

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