• Rebecca Watts

Our drive for pleasure and reward - the dopamine effect

We may not always realise but it is part of our make up to thrive on reward and pleasure, it helps get us up in the morning, motivates us to achieve and helps keep us focused.

Dopamine, a so called ‘happy hormone” is largely responsible for reward and pleasure.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (chemical signal within our body) that helps control reward and pleasure and can be responsible for our focus and motivation, it also helps regulate movement and emotional response, and stimulates the metabolism.

Dopamine is like rock n roll is to music - the craving you have when you smell coffee, the elation you feel throughout your body when you fall in love, the thrill of shopping, the desire for another, and maybe another glass of wine. That will be dopamine - giving you that little rush of pleasure and energy, keeping us motivated us. We need to keep our dopamine injection ticking over to thrive and enjoy life

Poor dopamine function

When you are functioning on insufficient or a dysfunctional flow of Dopamine you become likely to suffer from a range of health & wellbeing problems, such as

  • depression,

  • inability to feel pleasure,

  • lack of zest for life,

  • lacking in motivation,

  • inability to concentrate,

  • memory recall difficulties,

  • fatigue,

  • low libido,

  • apathy,

  • mood swings,

  • weight gain….

Where as adequate functioning dopamine release can keep us motivated, driven, focused. Maintaining adequate levels of dopamine is crucial to health and well-being.

From a holistic well-being point of view, dopamine responses - good and bad, are not dissimilar o that of the sacral chakra. Which is not that surprising when the area of the brain that is associated with the sacral chakra is the limbic system where dopamine is released from the hypothalamus.

When the drive takes a wrong turn

However, this human instinct / craving for pleasure and reward can sometimes lead us to seek alternative ways to stimulate the dopamine pathways.

Dopamine stimulation was predominantly linked with human connection / relationships. We received pleasure and reward from our interactions with other humans. However, in todays we are said to have become disconnected from each other and our surroundings and seek dopamine stimulation from external sources, such as alcohol, drugs, computer games, porn.

Addiction is often linked to dopamine and our reward and pleasure system, especially with low or dysfunctional dopamine receptors.

When we are have low dopamine release we seek quick highs to get that rush of feeling - dopamine release. This feeling is often short lived, which makes us seek more. Over time, this can have a negative effect on our receptors, leading to less stimulation and reduced reward and pleasure from every day life and stimulants.

Natural dopamine stimulants

We all need that little rush of excitement, pleasure, energy that comes from dopamine stimulation to keep us going. We need to experience the feeling throughout the day, not in kick hits. Sometimes its the simple things that give the most pleasure when we connect with them.

There are endless ways to boost natural dopamine stimulation


Your diet can play a part in your dopamine levels. Food does not contain dopamine, it is our body that creates dopamine, with the aid of amino acids from proteins, antioxidants from fruit and vegetables, and good fats for brain function.

Goal Setting

Dopamine is released with the reward of achievement so by setting goals and achieving them triggers a dopamine boost. We are wired to seek more reward for the pleasure experienced from the dopamine boost. If you struggle with motivation, it is best to set lots of smaller goals rather than one big one, each small goal releasing dopamine making you want to achieve the next goal. Try breaking down your goal into smaller chunks, or even start off with some really simple goals to release a dopamine boost to spur you on and get you going


Checklists are a great way to keep dopamine levels up. Making a list and checking tasks off works in the same way as achieving goals, you feel rewarded for the accomplishment, which in turns makes you seek more, thus motivating you forward.


Exercise not only boosts dopamine it also boosts other “feel good” hormones and transmitters such as endorphins and serotonin. Try a session at the gym or a brisk walk to pick you up when having difficulty motivating yourself or feel like giving in.


Meditation isn't for everyone and may take a bit of practise to master, but there is evidence to suggest that it increases dopamine so worth a try if its your thing.


Massage therapy as been shown to increase dopamine and serotonin by 30% as well as reducing cortisol (the stress hormone) by 30%. Having regular massage can help to keep your dopamine levels up - A great excuse to get a massage off your partner!

Listening to Music

Ever wondered why listening to your favourite music and bring you out of a mood or make you feel happy? Listening to music has been proven to have an effect on dopamine levels so if you are struggling to keep motivated listen to music. Try building a feel good playlist of your favourite tunes to turn to on when you are having a tough day or as a daily dopamine boost.

Get Creative

Creative hobbies have said to increase dopamine but only if you are truly inspired in a creative flow. So if you are a creative person and are inspired by creating, then make sure you make time for your creative flow. Try a few creative hobbies and see if they get your dopamine flowing.

Build proper relationships

Go back to the traditional connection / relationship approach for dopamine stimulation. Spend time with family and friends rather than communicating through phones / social media.

Last bit

Try to avoid quick ‘hits” from coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, sugars and try to manage stress levels. Dopamine is said to be detrimentally effected by long term stress.