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5. How to Hack the Brain Chemicals Associated with Happiness
What is happiness, and how much of it has to do with your brain chemicals? For some people, happiness is the feeling of joy or pleasure. However, the feeling of happiness is typically created by a combination of a unique cocktail of chemical hormonal reactions in your brain. The brain chemicals secreted are not always balanced, and that’s why you might feel like you’re particularly moody, sad, happy or ecstatic at times, but you do not always know the reason why. This article will introduce the four most important brain chemicals that are responsible for your happiness. These brain chemicals can have a major impact on your mood, and influence your mental, physical and emotional well-being. Once we review these four brain chemicals associated with feelings of happiness, we’ll get into 10 examples of ways you can hack your brain chemicals.
Dopamine is known as the ‘feel good hormone’ and is strongly linked to the brain’s reward system. This brain chemical motivates us to take action towards goals, desires, and needs, while reinforcing pleasure when we achieve these goals. This surge of feel good hormones can help encourage and motivate us, and help facilitate learning. For example, after being complimented or receiving a reward from completing a task, you get a rush of dopamine in your brain. On the opposite end, procrastination, self doubt, and lack of motivation are linked to low levels of dopamine.
Oxytocin is another feel-good hormone known as the ‘love hormone’ or ‘cuddle hormone’. Oxytocin is crucial in establishing a bond with someone and building healthy relationships. This hormone is triggered by intimacy and closeness, such as when men and women orgasm, and by mothers during childbirth and breastfeeding. When oxytocin is produced, it can help create feelings of trust, connectedness and security. Research shows that when we are excited for a social engagement, we get a burst of oxytocin which makes us want to socialize even more. This is essential for us to create strong bonds and improved social interactions.
Endorphins are a group of chemicals known as ‘opiate peptides’. Endorphins are more feel-good hormones that are released during exercise or physical activity, and can leave us feeling complete bliss. But what if you’re not getting enough endorphins? Low levels of endorphins are linked to emotional and physical pain, and an increased risk of addiction.
Serotonin is one of the most widely known ‘happy hormones’ and one of the most important brain chemicals associated with feelings of happiness. Serotonin works to regulate mood and it is secreted when you feel significant or important. However, loneliness and depression are common when serotonin is lacking. This phenomenon could be the reason why young adults fall into gang and criminal activity as being in a gang can give them a form of identity and self importance.
However, some people may be more genetically prone to an unhealthy lifestyle such as having an increased risk of alcohol addiction. A simple at-home DNA test such as a CircleDNA test can help you assess any addictions, habits and personality traits you are more likely to adopt based on your genetic makeup. With this information, you can make proactive decisions to make healthier lifestyle choices.
How to Hack the Brain Chemicals Associated with Happiness
Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins are responsible for our happiness. Being in a positive state can have a significant effect on our motivation, productivity, and attitude towards life. Different events and situations can trigger a cascade of these brain chemicals, however, we can intentionally try to cause them to flow. Below are 10 ways to hack your brain chemicals:
1. Play With Your Pet
Playing with or petting your pet can boost production of brain chemicals such as oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine. This is because interacting with your pet can create a bonding experience and promote the production of oxytocin.
2. Celebrate Small Wins
Dopamine is the brain chemical that is linked to the brain’s reward system. Instead of only celebrating when we hit a finish line, we should also remember to celebrate the small wins to release dopamine and keep us motivated. Celebrate by indulging in your favorite dessert or get yourself a little gift.
3. Give and Receive Hugs
Giving or receiving a hug can help boost oxytocin flow. In an interview with The Guardian, Dr. Paul Zak explains that inter-personal touch has several medical benefits such as reducing cardiovascular stress and improving the immune system. To get a healthy dose of oxytocin, Dr. Zak recommends eight hugs each day.
4. Give Gifts Frequently
When we receive gifts, our oxytocin levels increase. Give your colleagues, friends, and family little gifts to help strengthen work or personal relationships. Besides that, when you receive gifts, practice gratitude to remind yourself of your value in life. This can create a serotonin boost and leave you feeling happy.
5. Get Some Sun
Getting your daily dose of Vitamin D is more important than you think. (Just remember to wear sunscreen.) Our skin absorbs UV rays, which encourages serotonin production. Too much ultraviolet light can cause health problems such as increased risk of skin cancer and wrinkles.To protect your skin, put on a layer of sunscreen before leaving your home and try to keep your exposure to the sun under 20 minutes.
Exercise can cause the release of endorphins. Besides that, regular exercise can also promote serotonin and dopamine production. You don’t have to go for a super intense workout to reap these rewards. Any type of exercise will typically release endorphins.
7. Laugh More
Laughter is one of the easiest ways to stimulate a release of endorphins. You don’t have to attend a comedy show just to laugh more. Instead, get creative and try to find different things to laugh at during the day.
The scent of vanilla and lavender has been linked to an increase of production of endorphins. Keep vanilla and lavender scented candles or diffusers around your house or in the car to trigger a sense of wellbeing and an endorphin boost.
Prioritizing relaxing activities is important for our mental and physical well-being. This is because relaxing can trigger the production of dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin hormones. Whether you enjoy getting a massage, meditating, or reading a book, it is important for us to make time for ourselves.
10. Cook and Eat
There are plenty of studies conducted that found that food can boost our mood. Spice in food is found to boost endorphins, while fats and sugars are known to boost dopamine levels. Besides that, instead of cooking alone, grab a friend or a loved one to accompany you. Interacting and cooking for another person can boost oxytocin levels.
- Dopaminergic reward system: a short integrative review (Oscar Arias-Carrión, Maria Stamelou, Eric Murillo-Rodríguez, Manuel Menéndez-González, & Ernst Pöppel) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2958859/
- UConn Researcher: Dopamine Not About Pleasure (Anymore) (Christine Buckley) https://today.uconn.edu/2012/11/uconn-researcher-dopamine-not-about-pleasure-anymore/
- Oxytocin facilitates fidelity in well-established marmoset pairs by reducing sociosexual behavior toward opposite-sex strangers (Jon Cavanaugh, Aaryn C. Mustoe, Jack H. Taylor & Jeffrey A. French) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4165758/
- Oxytocin and social motivation (Ilanit Gordon, Carina Martin, Ruth Feldman & James F. Leckman) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3185363/
- Endorphins, Exercise, and Addictions: A Review of Exercise Dependence (Andrea Leuenberger) /content/files/p7226jkq/01643385373012.pdf
- Serotonin: What Role Has It in the Making of a “Rotten Apple”(Lori Lahue; Jim Ruiz; Pam Clarke) https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/serotonin-what-role-has-it-making-rotten-apple
- The Role of Oxytocin in the Dog–Owner Relationship (Sarah Marshall-Pescini, Franka S. Schaebs, Alina Gaugg, Anne Meinert, Tobias Deschner & Friederike Range) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6826447/
- Meet ‘Dr Love’, the scientist exploring what makes people good or evil (Oliver Burkeman) https://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/jul/15/interview-dr-love-paul-zak
- Sunshine, Serotonin, and Skin: A Partial Explanation for Seasonal Patterns in Psychopathology? (Randy A. Sansone, MD & Lori A. Sansone, MD) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3779905/
- Endorphins and exercise (V J Harber & J R Sutton) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6091217/
- Effects of Inhalation Aromatherapy on Symptoms of Sleep Disturbance in the Elderly with Dementia (Ai Takeda,Emiko Watanuki & Sachiyo Koyama) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5376423/