Hacking Happiness

green road sign with text that says 'Happiness Next Exit' with an arrow

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I had a very bad weekend a couple of weeks ago. I will spare you the sad details, but I mean I was super sad. I had no energy to think, feel, or even know how to make the sadness stop. Thankfully, a couple of weeks before, I began to do some research on hacking happiness and found the data interesting.

Could I actually “hack” myself into being happy?

If there was ever a time to try, this seemed to be a good weekend to experiment.

First, I acknowledged to myself and my husband how I was feeling. I named each emotion and shared the story behind the feeling. Naming and processing each emotion and the story are an important first step in living in the reality of the moment.

But sitting in the sadness at home started to feel overwhelming, so my husband suggested we go on a bike ride. We found a bike rental company and rented bikes. The trail was shaded, and the scenery was beautiful. The sun was warm on my face and arms and the vitamin D sent a spark of healing. After our bike ride, we enjoyed lunch outside — sitting quietly people watching. Next, a long bath and a good book brought more softening and that helped settle the sadness to not feel so overwhelming.

That evening, my husband grilled out and we watched some of our favorite shows. I snuggled with my puppy on the couch in my PJs and finished the night resolute that the feelings would not overwhelm me and that I could find a way forward.

Of course, I haven’t shared all of this to make you sad for me or wonder about my state of mind. I wanted to share a real-life situation where I could practice the “hacking” of happiness.

Feelings are a signal that something is wrong.

Feelings are our brains way of alerting us to pay attention. Feelings are originated in our brain and are often attached to a memory.  What I am feeling today could be related to a memory or experience from my past, which can intensify our feelings, compounding them and causing us to become overwhelmed.

Did you know that our hormones are also involved in how we feel?

It’s true. Here are four specifically that we can “hack” when our feelings feel overwhelming.

  1. Dopamine is the reward chemical and we can hack it by accomplishing a task or completing a goal. This chemical is released when we run a 5k or accomplish a long bike ride. I hacked into this chemical by pushing myself to bike 16 miles that day. I was proud of my accomplishment.
  2. Oxytocin is the love hormone and it kicks in when we socialize, hug, pet our animals or help others. I hacked into it when I snuggled my cute puppy on the couch. Just hugging her helped this hormone to release.
  3. Endorphins are the painkillers and we can hack into these chemicals when we listen to music, watch a movie, laugh or exercise. I hacked into these watching my favorite Netflix show with my hubby.
  4. And finally, Serotonin is a mood stabilizer. You can hack into this chemical with sun exposure, being in nature, and meditating. I hacked this chemical when I was riding on the Swamp Rabbit trail. I could feel this one kick in almost immediately.


Sadness is a part of our lives. In fact, according to an announcement from Gallup about their newest book Blind Spot, there has been a global rise of unhappiness. People are reporting more stress, sadness, physical pain, worry and anger than at any point in the history of Gallup’s tracking. But that doesn’t mean we to need to allow ourselves to be swept up by this trend.

We will all need to grieve many incidents and relationship experiences in our lifetime. However, no one — including you and me — needs to be stuck in sadness. It does not have to consume us.

If I can learn how to hack into happiness, so can you.

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