Dopamine is not the “feel good” molecule (and the very concept of a feel good molecule is meaningless)


Dopamine is not the feel good molecule or the basis of pleasure. The idea that any molecule considered in isolation could be the basis of a subjective experience is basically nonsense.

For people who can’t really reason through this idea, there is plenty of experimental evidence showing the complexity of each and every “celebrity” neurochemical — dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and so on.

None of the famous neurochemicals are doing what the pop science world says that they are doing. Even scientists actively researching these molecules don’t understand them completely yet.

For the average person interested in mental health and/or pleasure, it is a waste of time focusing on molecules like dopamine.

Describe what you want in non-scientific, colloquial terms. It might be pleasure, or fun, or curiosity, or drive, or novelty-seeking, or some other psychological phenomenon. Now look at the whole swathe of human culture (not just science!), and see what people have done over the years to improve or enhance these phenomena. You’ll find that the wisdom of prior decades (and even centuries) is all you really need if your focus is self-care and self-improvement.

  • Eat a varied diet with both vegetables and proteins
  • Get enough sleep
  • Exercise — engage in physical activities like sports, games, dance, or martial arts
  • Have hobbies — read, write, do art or music, travel if you can, cook
  • Maintain an active social network — engage with friends, family and even strangers on a regular basis.

With practice, your brain will produce the appropriate amount of dopamine for each of these tasks.

You only need to worry about dopamine levels if you know you have damage to dopamine-producing cells, as is the case in Parkinson’s disease.


This answer was written in response to a question on Quora:

What can I do to produce more dopamine in the brain?

I get into the problems with the “chemical soup” perspective in more depth this essay:

The Chemical Self and the Social Self


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