People play games because they make them happy. But how does that work on a chemical level?

By Clark Buckner (Content Marketer & New Media Strategist,

You might recognize the name Nicole Lazzaro. She’s kind of a big deal. I had the opportunity to sit down with her earlier this year, and her insight gave me not just one, but two episodes.

This time, I met with Nicole at’s Gsummit conference during my live coverage, where she was a featured speaker. Afterwards, I was lucky enough to get another one-on-one with her.

Since our last conversation, Nicole and her team at XEODesign have served over 1 billion gamers. Billion, with a “b.” During her talk, she discussed how she’s managed to accomplish that, focusing on the Science of Fun. She challenged the audience to come up with just three simple ways to make themselves happier using this information.

It Doesn’t Take Magic, Just a Little Science

There are four major chemicals in the brain that influence our happiness (DOSE):

  1. Dopamine
  2. Oxytocin
  3. Serotonin
  4. Endorphins

As Nicole explains, each plays a different role in happiness.


Dopamine is what we normally think of as the happiness drug. However, if you listened to our last conversation with Nicole, you know that’s a big misconception. Again, she explains that dopamine is actually involved more with anticipation than the actual “happiness” feeling. She describes it as a striving emotion.


You may be less familiar with oxytocin, unless you’ve heard of the cuddle hormone – they’re the same thing. Oxytocin is released through closeness with another person. However, it doesn’t have to be cuddling (your coworkers might not appreciate that.) It can also be triggered through social bonding, like eye contact and attentiveness. This helps strengthen existing bonds and relationships.


Number three is serotonin, which is widely understood to control your greater mood. If you’re in a good mood, you’ve got serotonin to thank. And if you’re in a bad mood, you’ve got serotonin to blame. Interestingly, Nicole explains, 80 percent of serotonin exists in the gut, and is governed by your state of hunger. Get a little grumpy when you skip lunch? Here’s why.


Less prominent are endorphins, the last dose of the DOSE hormones. They’ve responsible for masking pain or discomfort, which explains they’re association with the “fight or flight” mechanic. When it comes to designing happiness, endorphins help you “power through.” Nicole, for example, is an avid runner. Endorphins allow her to push farther and harder as she works towards distance goals.

By finding a way to activate each of these emotions, Nicole says, you incorporate a little more happiness into your day, which in turn increases productivity.

Designing Desirable Brain States Allows You to get More Done

The same principles can be incorporated into encouraging user loyalty. As Nicole discussed more thoroughly in our last conversation, as did Andrea Kuszewski & Nir Eyal in our conversation with them, designing UX elements with neuroscience in mind keeps consumers coming back.

Nicole’s ultimate goal? Change the world through positive thinking. By gaming yourself into happiness, there’s a ripple effect — like increased productivity, and increased loyalty. If you’re interested in hearing more in-depth how that can be achieved, check out our earlier conversations with Nicole, or her website,

The Takeaways

  • There are four primary chemicals in the brain that affect happiness: Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins
  • Each one is activated in a different way
  • By designing daily experiences that activate these chemicals, you can increase your happiness, productivity and customer loyalty

This post originally appeared on TechnologyAdvice.

What do you do to kick-start your happy chemicals?