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Andrew Huberman: Science-Based Tools for Increasing Happiness

Updated: Jan 15

Release Date-11/14/2022

Podcast Duration- 2:23:44

A summary by Brandon Johnson, DC

5 Key Takeaways

  1. Pursue both natural and synthetic happiness

  2. Be focused and self encouraging

  3. Presence is the link between natural and synthetic happiness

  4. Meditate to increase focus and improve sleep

  5. Build the ability to focus and be present in the moment

Dr. Huberman begins this podcast by talking about happiness and how it is often the most sought after aspect in human life.

What is happiness and what does it mean?

  1. Operational definition of happiness

  2. Uses language like the words happiness, joy, pleasure, delight

  3. Not good at actually describing emotion

  4. Happiness is subjective and cannot be calibrated

  5. Scientific definition (the way Huberman understands happiness)

  6. A brain state that affects the mind and body

  7. Represented by certain levels of neurotransmitters and neuromodulators released in the brain.

  8. Neurotransmitter/modulator

  9. Chemical substances released in the brain/nervous system that play pivotal roles on mood and other major functions

Two types of Happiness

Huberman emphasis the idea to pursue both types of happiness

  1. Theme 1: Natural happiness

  2. We expect to have joy by receiving or accomplishing things

  3. Examples: complete a degree, find a relationship, reach an income goal, kids getting toys

  4. Theme 2: Synthesized happiness

  5. Not just imagining happiness

  6. Grounded in dopamine rewards

  7. At least as powerful as natural

  8. Takes effort to achieve

  9. Requires that certain environmental settings are met

  10. Visual and environmental cues

  11. Examples:

  12. Jaws soundtrack creates unease or nervous

  13. Anticipation

  14. Disney soundtrack can induce happiness

Two components of Happiness

  1. Meaning and connection

  2. How much gravity does our social interactions or behaviors carry for us?

  3. Performance and Resources

  4. Income that covers cost of living and some buffer (extra money in case of emergency)

  5. Relative to each individual

  6. Financial buffer decreases anxiety

  7. Hard work that leads to desired results

Understanding the Brain Chemistry of Happiness

  1. No way to accurately measure neurochemicals of happiness

  2. Neurotransmitters and modulators are present in a cocktail

  3. There is not one specific thing that creates a desired mental state

  4. Dopamine and Serotonin are correlated with happiness

  5. People with high levels seem to be happier

  6. Low levels can equate to depression

  7. Excessively high levels can lead to mania

  8. People with depression are treated with SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors)

  9. Increases levels of dopamine and serotonin

After explaining what happiness actually is, Dr. Huberman goes on to say that there is a great deal of contradiction in happiness research. He believes that there are tools to create happiness and that one must “access the algorithms that enable it.”

Tools to create happiness

  1. Quality social connection: not always deep or meaningful conversation or shared experiences

  2. Romantic

  3. Friendship

  4. Daily interaction with coworkers

  5. Deep sleep

  6. Quality nutrition

  7. Quality social interaction

  8. Purposeful work paid or unpaid

  9. Daily exercise

  10. Increase state of wellbeing

  11. Try to control living and work environment

  12. Add plants, pets, music, etc.

  13. Take happiness inventory

  14. What are you grateful for?

  15. Giving gratitude to others

  16. Higher happiness value when the person receiving will benefit greatly from the gift/service

  17. Prosocial spending

  18. Giving money to causes that you are passionate about higher prosocial spending (relative to income) is directly

  19. Associated with increased happiness

  20. Personal spending was not related to an increase in overall happiness

  21. Employees who opted to give a higher percentage of their bonus to prosocial spending resulted in more happiness even more than receiving a larger bonus

Studies on happiness

  1. Harvard Happiness Project

  2. Began in 1938

  3. Longest study on happiness

  4. Older people have the ability to compare happiness from one age to another

  5. Key findings:

  6. Income doesn’t seem to correlate to happiness as long as basic needs are met

  7. Huberman states that money can’t buy happiness but it can buffer stress

  8. People feel sad on birthdays

  9. Relate age to accomplishments relative to peers

  10. People who make money quickly or receive inheritance report more immediate happiness but experience decreased happiness after time.

  11. 30% of people experience seasonal depression

  12. Lack of sunlight

  13. Anticipation of success sometimes offers more dopamine release than actually obtaining it

  14. Happiness along lifespan-Huberman makes it clear that this does not apply to everyone

  15. U shape graph

  16. Happy in 20s

  17. More responsibilities in 30s and 40s

  18. Less happiness reported

  19. Increase happiness in 50s and 60s

  20. Retired, no co-dependents

  21. Cognitive and physical decline after 60s

  22. Happiness levels vary

  23. Recently things have changed

  24. Married later in life

  25. People aren’t having kids

  26. Most people with children report less happiness

  27. U Shaped curve might have a deviation now because people aren’t having kids

  28. Less stress, more time and money

Dr. Huberman explains that in order to promote happiness one must learn to control their mind and become more focused in the present

Focus and Presence

“The wandering mind is an unhappy mind”

  1. If your mind wanders away from an activity less happiness is reported even if the activity was not enjoyable.

  2. Mind wandering can be considered the cause of unhappiness

  3. We must remain present in activity to increase happiness

  4. Meditation is directly correlated to increase focus and increase cognitive performance

Biggest take away:

If we are not focused on our current activity, the likelihood of experiencing less happiness is much higher

Evaluated decision making

  1. Focusing on alternative options decreases happiness

  2. Investing and sticking to choices will increase natural and synthetic happiness


  1. When we make a choice and are forced to stick to it, we tend to be more happy than if we had the option to change that choice

  2. Leaving options or choices open results in diminished happiness

Social Connection and Happiness

  1. Two forms of social connection

  2. Presence and eye contact

  3. Seeing someones face is crucial to make a “real connection”

  4. Physical contact

  5. Not always romantic or sexual

  6. Allogrooming- non sexual physical contact

  7. Pattern observed in all mammals

  8. Individuals of the same species grooming someone else

  9. Example- barber, nail salon, massage

  10. Stimulates C-tactile neurons

  11. Creates a feeling of well being in the person being touched

  12. Increases oxytocin which creates a feeling of bonding

  13. Seeing or touching a dog/animal results in increased happiness

Huberman explains how crucial maintaining normal rhythm can be in optimizing health, wellness and happiness.

Circadian Rhythm and Light

  1. Circadian rhythm

  2. Physical, mental and behavior changes that follow a 24-hour cycle

  3. Critical value in getting regular direct sunlight during the first hour of waking up or bright light for 20-30 minutes

  4. Avoid artificial light 10pm-4am

  5. Negative impact on dopamine release

  6. Adjust overall brightness on screen

  7. Not enough light in the day

  8. Too much light at night

  9. Make indoor work environment as bright as possible during day, less at night

  10. Dim light after 6pm

  11. Getting sunlight in late afternoon during sunset 2-5 minutes

  12. Can adjust retinal neurons which counteract negative artificial effects of light

  13. Netflix inoculation

  14. Sunlight in the late afternoon can reduce negative effects of artificial light at night

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