Why do certain people and experiences make us feel calm, happy, or even joyful?
One of the key elements for this is that our positive connections and experiences of awe and wonder actually create a chemical reaction in our brain. This is via chemical messengers in our brains, more commonly known as hormones.
There are four main hormones that are primarily responsible for creating those feel- good emotions and sensations. They moderate our feelings of well-being and are influenced by our stress levels, self-care, and lifestyle choices.
Here are the main happiness chemicals in your body:
This hormone drives your brain’s reward chemical. It is released when you are doing something pleasurable.
This could be eating a great meal, listening to inspiring music, getting a massage, or completing a physical exercise workout. The release of dopamine gives feelings of well-being and motivates you to seek things you enjoy and do well.
Serotonin stabilises our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. Additionally, it helps decrease our worries and concerns and is associated with learning and memory.
Serotonin is naturally triggered by regular things we can do each day – going for a walk in the sunshine, getting a good night’s sleep, spending time in nature or self-care activities that reduce stress levels.
Endorphins are produced by the central nervous system to help us deal with physical pain. They are released in response to pain or stress, but they’re also released during other activities, like eating, exercise, or sex.
They release a brief euphoria that covers the pain. Athletes frequently speak about an ‘endorphin high’ they get when they push their body to the point of real discomfort or pain.
Oxytocin often called ‘the love hormone’. Extensive research has linked oxytocin release to life satisfaction levels.
It appears to play a larger role in women’s physiology and happiness than men’s. Oxytocin is mainly correlated with a loving touch and close relationships.
This hormone provides a multiple hit, by stimulating serotonin and dopamine, while lowering anxiety.
Our brains get wired by experience. Every time our neurochemicals surge, our neurons build connections.
Experience has wired you to turn on your brain chemicals in the way they turned on before. They build easily when we’re young but it’s not as easy to build new ones as we get older.
Building new circuits takes a lot of repetition. So, pick a new happy habit and start repeating it, over and over, until your new habit feels as natural as your old ones and start enjoying feeling happy.
We know Dopamine is a trigged when you do something well. Make sure you regularly incorporate things you enjoy and do well, into your life.
Kicking a goal or achieving a target or accomplishing a task will all give you a hit of dopamine and tell your brain you’ve done a good job.
Another way is to do something kind for someone. Volunteering on a regular basis will also give you a regular hit of dopamine that will help make you feel good.
There are a few ways you can naturally increase your levels of Serotonin. Getting out into the sunlight is one way. Everybody feels better on a sunny day.
Work on developing your belief in your own worth. Everyone has wins and losses.
If you focus on your losses, you will depress your serotonin. Build the habit of focusing on your wins – whether large or small.
Exercise is another way to increase serotonin levels. A brisk walk of just 10 minutes will do wonders for your mood, so why not continue for longer? Twenty to forty minutes will give you incredible heart and health benefits too.
Research has also found that consuming food higher in tryptophan increases serotonin. Foods that are high in tryptophan include chicken, eggs, cheese, fish, peanuts, pumpkin, sesame seeds, milk, and turkey.
To release endorphins, exercise is again the way. The exercise ‘high’ is a real thing.
However, there are also other ways to get an endorphin release – a good old belly laugh or a stretch. A genuine laugh cannot be produced on demand and a genuine stretch requires a little skill. But you create opportunities to trigger your endorphin release in these ways.
Oxytocin is released by giving and receiving love in all its forms. Taking care of yourself with a holistic yoga class, massage, meditation or listening to music. Having a meaningful conversation with family or friends or cooking for those you care about. Giving your pet a hug or being intimate with someone special.
There are so many things you can do to make yourself feel better and improve your enjoyment of life.
Happiness is within your control. So even if your natural tendency is to be more down than up, you can make a choice that will help you experience a brighter, happier life.