How to Increase Serotonin

Try these strategies to help boost your mood

Woman walking outdoors while smiling.

Getty / Kosamtu

If you're interested in finding ways to improve your mood, you may have heard that increasing serotonin can be helpful. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in the regulation of mood and emotion. Many people think of serotonin as the "happy chemical" because it's associated with feelings of well-being, happiness, and calmness. Below are some ways that you can increase serotonin levels.

Get Enough Sunlight Every Day

Aim for at least 30 minutes. Whether you bask in your backyard, take a brisk walk around the block, or simply sit near a sunny window, getting some natural light will help increase your serotonin levels.

Eat More Tryptophan-rich Foods

Tryptophan is an amino acid that's needed for serotonin production. Include more tryptophan-rich foods in your diet, such as the ones below:

  • Turkey
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans

Reduce Stress Levels

Chronic stress can lead to low serotonin levels, so it's important to ensure that your stress levels are under control. If a life situation is the cause of your stress, do your best to change it. If you can't change it, try to find ways to cope with the stress in a healthy way, such as through exercise, relaxation techniques, or counseling.

Exercise Regularly

Even moderate exercise can make a difference. Research shows that people who get regular exercise have higher levels of serotonin than sedentary folks. Below are some ideas of how to get exercise:

  • Take a brisk walk for 20-30 minutes every day.
  • Join an exercise class at your local gym.
  • Ride your bike instead of driving whenever possible.

Take Care of Yourself Emotionally

If you're dealing with stress, anxiety, or depression, it can have a negative impact on your serotonin levels. Consider talking to a therapist to help you work through any emotional issues you may be facing. If therapy is not an option, writing regularly in a journal can also be helpful.

Incorporate a Bit of Sleep Deprivation

This one may sound strange, but sleep deprivation can actually increase serotonin levels. However, it's important to note that this should only be done in moderation and with your doctor's approval.

Practice Stress-Relieving Activities Such as Yoga or Meditation

If you've never tried yoga or meditation, now might be the time to give it a shot. These activities have been shown to help reduce stress and promote relaxation, both of which can help increase serotonin levels.

Spend Time With Loved Ones

Socializing with friends, family, and loved ones can help improve your mood and increase serotonin levels. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good and avoid those who bring you down.

Get Regular Massages

Massages are not only relaxing, but they can also help to reduce stress. A study published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that people who used a massage chair had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and lower perceived depression.

Try a Supplement (After Consulting With Your Healthcare Provider)

If you're not able to get enough sunlight, eat a balanced diet, or exercise regularly, taking a supplement may help increase your serotonin levels. Below are some to try:

  • Vitamin D3: This vitamin may help to reduce feelings of depression.
  • 5-HTP: This is a precursor to serotonin that can help increase levels of the neurotransmitter.
  • L-tryptophan: This amino acid is needed for serotonin production. Including it in your diet or taking it as a supplement may help increase serotonin levels.
  • St. John's wort: This herb has been shown to be effective in reducing depression, which may involve low serotonin levels.

Listen to Calming Music or Read Positive Affirmations

Listening to calming music or reading positive affirmations can help you relax and focus on the positive. This, in turn, can help increase your serotonin levels. Below are some affirmations to try.

  • I am happy and healthy
  • I am surrounded by love and positivity
  • I am worthy of happiness and success
  • I am in control of my life and my destiny

Spend Time in Nature

There's something about being in nature that just makes you feel good. Maybe it's the fresh air, the sound of the waves, or the beauty of the landscape. Whatever it is, spending time in nature has been shown to help reduce stress and improve mood, both of which can help increase serotonin levels. Below are some ideas for getting outside.

  • Go for a walk in the park
  • Lay in the grass and look at the clouds
  • Visit a botanical garden
  • Take a hike in the woods
  • Sit by a lake or pond
  • Listen to the birds sing

Connect With Your Spiritual Side

Whether you consider yourself religious or not, connecting with your spiritual side can help reduce stress and promote peace and calm, both of which can help increase serotonin levels. Below are some ways to connect with your spirituality.

  • Pray or meditate
  • Read religious or spiritual texts
  • Attend religious services
  • Talk to a clergy member or spiritual guru
  • Volunteer for a religious or spiritual organization

Help Others

Doing good deeds for others can help you feel good about yourself, and that may lead to increased serotonin levels. Whether you volunteer your time, donate money to a worthy cause, or just do something nice for someone, the act of helping others can make you feel better. Below are some ideas to get you started.

  • Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or food bank
  • Visit a nursing home or assisted living facility
  • Help a neighbor with yard work or chores
  • Donate to your favorite charity
  • Tutor a child in need

Connect With Animals

Spending time with animals has been shown to reduce stress, promote relaxation, and improve mood. If you don't have a pet, consider volunteering at a local animal shelter or going on a nature hike where you're likely to see some wildlife. Below are some ideas for connecting with animals.

  • Adopt a pet from a local shelter
  • Spend time at a farm or ranch
  • Go bird watching
  • Watch a cute animal video

Practice Gratitude

When you're feeling down, it's easy to focus on all the negative things in your life. But taking a moment to focus on the things you're grateful for can help shift your perspective and improve your mood. And that can lead to increased serotonin levels. Below are some ideas for practicing gratitude.

  • Keep a gratitude journal and write down three things you're thankful for each day
  • Share your blessings with others by telling them what you're grateful for
  • Send a thank you note to someone who has done something nice for you
  • Make a list of all the good things that have happened to you in the past year

Laugh more

Laughter really is the best medicine. It's been shown to boost mood, relieve stress, and improve overall health. So go ahead and watch your favorite comedy, read a funny book, or spend time with people who make you laugh. It'll do your mind and body good.

Take a Warm Bath or Use Aromatherapy

Try aromatherapy using essential oils such as lavender or chamomile. Aromatherapy has been shown to be effective in reducing stress and promoting relaxation, both of which can help increase serotonin levels.

A Word From Verywell Mind

If you think you might be suffering from a serotonin deficiency, it's important to talk to your doctor. Low serotonin levels can be linked to serious health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Treating these conditions can help improve your overall well-being and quality of life.

15 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Alenina N, Klempin F. The role of serotonin in adult hippocampal neurogenesisBehav Brain Res. 2015;277:49-57. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2014.07.038

  2. Veleva BI, van Bezooijen RL, Chel VGM, Numans ME, Caljouw MAA. Effect of ultraviolet light on mood, depressive disorders and well-beingPhotodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2018;34(5):288-297. doi:10.1111/phpp.12396

  3. Strasser B, Gostner JM, Fuchs D. Mood, food, and cognition: role of tryptophan and serotoninCurr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2016;19(1):55-61. doi:10.1097/MCO.0000000000000237

  4. Mahar I, Bambico FR, Mechawar N, Nobrega JN. Stress, serotonin, and hippocampal neurogenesis in relation to depression and antidepressant effectsNeurosci Biobehav Rev. 2014;38:173-192. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.11.009

  5. Melancon MO, Lorrain D, Dionne IJ. Exercise and sleep in aging: emphasis on serotoninPathol Biol (Paris). 2014;62(5):276-283. doi:10.1016/j.patbio.2014.07.004

  6. Davies SK, Ang JE, Revell VL, et al. Effect of sleep deprivation on the human metabolomeProc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014;111(29):10761-10766. doi:10.1073/pnas.1402663111

  7. Matsunaga M, Ishii K, Ohtsubo Y, Noguchi Y, Ochi M, Yamasue H. Association between salivary serotonin and the social sharing of happinessPLoS One. 2017;12(7):e0180391. Published 2017 Jul 6. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0180391

  8. Baek JY, Lee E, Gil B, Jung HW, Jang IY. Clinical effects of using a massage chair on stress measures in adults: A pilot randomized controlled trialComplement Ther Med. 2022;66:102825. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2022.102825

  9. Kaviani M, Nikooyeh B, Zand H, Yaghmaei P, Neyestani TR. Effects of vitamin D supplementation on depression and some involved neurotransmittersJ Affect Disord. 2020;269:28-35. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2020.03.029

  10. Maffei ME. 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP): Natural Occurrence, Analysis, Biosynthesis, Biotechnology, Physiology and ToxicologyInt J Mol Sci. 2020;22(1):181. Published 2020 Dec 26. doi:10.3390/ijms22010181

  11. Gibson EL. Tryptophan supplementation and serotonin function: genetic variations in behavioural effectsProc Nutr Soc. 2018;77(2):174-188. doi:10.1017/S0029665117004451

  12. Ng QX, Venkatanarayanan N, Ho CY. Clinical use of Hypericum perforatum (St John's wort) in depression: A meta-analysisJ Affect Disord. 2017;210:211-221. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2016.12.048

  13. Peselow E, Pi S, Lopez E, Besada A, Ishak WW. The impact of spirituality before and after treatment of major depressive disorderInnov Clin Neurosci. 2014;11(3-4):17-23.

  14. Yim J. Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical ReviewTohoku J Exp Med. 2016;239(3):243-249. doi:10.1620/tjem.239.243

  15. Farrar AJ, Farrar FC. Clinical AromatherapyNurs Clin North Am. 2020;55(4):489-504. doi:10.1016/j.cnur.2020.06.015

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."