Art and Happy Hormones

Jun 23, 2023

When our children feel sad, are hurt, maybe unwell or injured we want to help them feel happier. Art as therapy is a well-known strategy that helps release the happy hormones in our bodies. There are four of these that health practitioners refer to when considering why some experiences trigger feel-good emotions and engender a sense of contentment, peace, even joy. 

These happy hormones

When we experience something pleasurable, Dopamine is released and we feel good in the moment. This is sometimes called the rewarding hormone. It comes with doing even simple things like something we know is good for us: for example, eating healthy food. It can also be things like making our bed, preparing for school - organising ourselves. Then there is the satisfaction we feel when we finish a task. If someone gives us a pat on the back, a ‘well done’ or just a big smile when we achieve something we feel the ‘warm fuzzies’. 

Serotonin is another chemical released in our body which has a longer lasting effect on our sense of well-being. This is a mood stabilising hormone released when we are out in the sunshine, in nature and exercising. Ensuring our children, our students, are given daily opportunities to experience these mood boosters can be significant in the overall feeling of calm, positivity and self-worth. Pause, smell the roses and breathe in the serenity!

Endorphins are hormones that work like pain killers: emotional as well as physical. These can be released when we laugh and exercise. Physical activities may be restricted but encouraging whatever is possible can help - even making faces to get a laugh! Laughter is a wonderful medicine.

The fourth happy hormone is Oxytocin, often referred to as the love or cuddle hormone. This is connected to our interactions with others. It is released when we hug people we love, when we hold hands, and when we play with a baby or a dog. At a time when maintaining distance and guarding our personal space has become a health consideration, many people have been missing out on this happy hormone. One reason why dogs have become so popular!


As parents and educators, when we prepare for lessons or activities involving art, we can work towards ways to offer differentiation so these happy hormones kick into gear for children who may be sick or injured, disabled or perhaps sad, while benefiting all students. Everyone has their down moments, whether we show it or not, and a dose of happy hormones is always welcome. 

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A. Less structured, more targeted 

The focus may be to try to meet the needs of a specific child in an individual setting. Obviously gauging their needs and capabilities are paramount and it could be just a matter of presenting a variety of creative, fun activities. Your attention and engagement will get the oxytocin going. You may like to also read this BLOG: Dis-art-abilities. 

For some, art activities that are less structured, simple and colourful could be a starting point. Doodling, scribbling, colouring-in can be soothing - adults love it too! It may be enough for you to draw outline pictures for them to colour in. Or ask them what they’d like you to draw and make fun of your attempts to do this - laughing triggers the endorphins! Find an Artventure lesson that YOU can use to draw something for them to colour in. 

Artventure has some great abstract style lessons which can be used for the less structured sorts of scenarios: art activities that allow for imagination and non-realistic representations. Then there are patterned activities - these can be black and white or coloured in. Some are more prescriptive than others while always offering opportunities to be creative - do it your way! 

Here are some lessons in the Artventure library (for younger or less experienced students):

Or try some from the Art Eye Deer library (for more experienced students):

B. More generic approach 

Working with a larger group of children might require more strategic planning. However, these suggestions can work for individuals and small groups just as well. Again, identifying those with specific emotional or physical needs underpins what approaches may be best.

Which happy hormones might come into play with each of these strategies…? 

1. Consider ways that each child can connect to the focus in some way

  • Possibilities for choice and personal preferences with 
    1. Setting
      1. Encouraging a location in a sunny window looking out on a garden, or even better, actually outside amongst the plants, the flowers, the birds…
    2. Materials
      1. Easily managed by all abilities, with a hint of challenge 
    3. Colours
      1. Offering options to reflect express emotions and moods
        1. Warm, bright colours can lift spirits
  • Options for artworks that involve more gross motor skills, or diverse abilities
    1. Throwing paint at the chosen surface
    2. Using feet and hands not just brushes
    3. Walking, moving to collect objects to be used as artwork subjects
  • Opportunities for kids to set their own plans and goals and organise their work space
    1. The extent of your help with any of this will depend on the situation of the group and each individual.

2. Demonstrate examples of techniques, choices and reflections

  • Mistakes are OK
    1. Hear Kirsty talks about this
    2. Share examples of self-talk that helps us move forward
    3. Show them how to create certain effects or mix colours
    4. There’s a whole section in Artventure called Tips From Kirsty and Mixing Colours is just one
    5. Contrasts is another…
  • Constructive criticism is a skill to foster with care
    1. Peer assessment is valuable but needs to be guided
    2. Help kids find something they like and something they might have tried differently - a colour, a line, a shaping…
  • Specific praise supported by reasons spikes the dopamine!

3. Display finished results. 

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Here are some more lessons from the Artventure library that can distract with the abstract, incite laughter, colour our world, take us off into fantasy, or focus on the reality of our situation and how we feel.  

Distract with the Abstract

Colour our World

Follow our Fantasy

In Harmony with our Health

The wellbeing of our kids

It can be heart wrenching to see our kids in pain physically or emotionally. Through engaging them in art activities, we are able to help lift their spirits, to help them feel better about themselves and their situation. Let’s get those happy hormones hopping, for ALL kids, and lavish them with love and laughter (lots of cuddles, where acceptable) and ART. 

Teacher and Artventure Blogger

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