"Dopamenus" Are Basically A To-Do List That Brings You Joy

Think of them as a motivational snack.

What is a dopamine menu? Experts explain the happiness-boosting productivity hack.
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If you're a procrastination queen, then you know what it feels like to ignore your to-do list in favor of scrolling social media. It's super common to feel unmotivated or unfocused, which is why dopamine menus — a productivity-boosting hack with over 54 million views on TikTok — have taken off.

Also called "dopamenus," dopamine menus are essentially personalized lists of activities, tasks, or experiences that make you happy, says Artisa Moten, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Awakened Consulting Inc. The idea is to do something fun from your list, get a boost of dopamine, and then ride that wave of happiness as you get less exciting stuff done. As Moten explains, dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, motivation, and reward, which is why you can deliberately use it to help structure your day and feel happier and more motivated.

Dopamenus come in handy whenever you’re stuck in a rut, like when you wake up on a Sunday morning with no clue what to do. Choose something off your dopamine menu and boom, you’ve got yourself a plan. They can also be useful whenever you’re struggling to focus or complete a task. According to Moten, combining the chore with something on your dopamine menu — think treating yourself to an iced coffee while you clean — is a way to engage with it and reward yourself for getting it done. Keep reading for more intel on the method and how to use it.

Who Benefits From Dopamine Menus?

According to Gary Tucker, a licensed psychotherapist, dopamine menus are a godsend for anyone with low energy, lack of motivation, or symptoms of ADHD — as well as anyone who’s feeling blah on any particular day. On TikTok, many creators use dopamine menus as a way to study without feeling distracted, but you can use dopamine menus at work, while doing chores, etc.

Dopamine is associated with reward circuitry and goal-directed behavior, so when you set short-term goals with rewards attached to them, it can positively shape your productivity,” he says. “Tapping into your natural reward system can inspire and energize you to take on tasks you may have avoided.”

You can turn to your dopamenu whenever you’re procrastinating or when you need a dose of positivity. “Just like you need protein in your diet, your brain needs dopamine to function smoothly and keep you motivated,” says Dr. Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Joy from Fear. “When you’re feeling low, unmotivated, unfocused, or depressed, a stimulating dopamine surge can be just what’s needed to get back on track.” And this might be the easiest way to get that productivity-boosting dose of happiness.

How To Make A Dopamine Menu

Dopamine menus are super personal, so it’s up to you to figure out what goes on yours. To get started, Moten suggests brainstorming a list of things that make you happy — it could be exercising, gardening, crafting, walking, taking a warm shower, hanging out with your pet, or whatever else brings you joy.

From there, you can set up your dopamenu just like a menu you’d see in a restaurant. According to Manly, some folks organize it into sides, appetizers, and main courses. Think of an appetizer as something you can do quickly to give yourself a little boost, like drinking a latte or hugging your dog. A main course is something a little bigger, like exercising, spending quality time with a friend, or crafting. “The idea is to have an array of choices — each with specific uses and benefits — to manage dopamine levels effectively,” she says.

You can also break your list down into the time of day, Moten adds. A morning dopamine menu might include things that entice you out of bed, like the promise of an iced matcha. An afternoon might include things that perk you up as you work, like taking a dance break as you listen to your favorite song.

Once you have your list, put it in your phone so you have it easily available. Then, the next time you’re feeling stuck, bored, or unmotivated, you can crack it open, choose something off your list, and hopefully feel a whole lot better.

Studies referenced:

Baik, JH. (2020). Stress and the dopaminergic reward system. Exp Mol Med. doi: 10.1038/s12276-020-00532-4.

Klein, MO. (2019). Dopamine: Functions, Signaling, and Association with Neurological Diseases. Cell Mol Neurobiol. doi: 10.1007/s10571-018-0632-3.

Wu, J. (2021). Role of dopamine receptors in ADHD: a systematic meta-analysis. Mol Neurobiol. doi: 10.1007/s12035-012-8278-5.


Artisa Moten, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist with Awakened Consulting Inc.

Dr. Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, author of Joy from Fear.

Gary Tucker, licensed psychotherapist, chief clinical officer at D'Amore Mental Health