Hack Your Happiness Chemicals
The good news is that there are several neuroscience-backed ways of releasing happy chemicals that can uplift your mood in an instant. Let’s have a look at them.
When it comes to finding happiness, what works for one person might not do anything for someone else. But there’s something that we all have in common—hormones. Whether you’re feeling elated or depressed—it’s the hormones that are to be blamed. But sometimes you don’t need a lot to feel good. Happiness can be found in the most insignificant and mundane things you do every day. Simple activities like walking your dog or cooking your favourite meal can prove to be great stress relievers. Your brain is a positive feedback system, which means that being happy often leads to more happiness. And usually, all it takes is a small attitude adjustment to keep your brain feeling good.
So whether you’re feeling anxious because of a particular reason or can’t seem to pinpoint the factor behind your bad mood, it ultimately comes down to these four feel-good chemicals that your brain releases.
Dopamine, the reward chemical
Dopamine is a hormone and neurotransmitter that’s released when your brain is expecting a reward. Dopamine is usually associated with pleasure but it’s also a contributing factor in motor function, mood, and even decision making. A study by Dr Anthony A. Grace, Departments of Neuroscience, Psychiatry and Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, USA, found that common symptoms of depression like low motivation and loss of interest are linked to a dopamine deficiency. The study also states that this dysfunction might be triggered by stress, pain, or trauma. For your body to release healthy amounts of dopamine, you need to:
- Eat protein-rich food and limit saturated fats
- Exercise regularly
- Get enough sleep
- Listen to calming music
- Get enough sunlight
Serotonin, the mood stabiliser
This hormone helps regulate your mood as well as your sleep, appetite, digestion, learning ability, and memory. Serotonin is found mostly in the digestive system, although it’s also present in blood platelets and throughout the central nervous system. According to researchers from the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA, serotonin loss may be a key player in cognitive decline, and can even lead to dementia. But you can easily boost your serotonin levels by doing the following:
- Eat tryptophan-rich foods like tofu, soya and pumpkin seeds
- Go for a swim or a hike
- Spend time in natural light
- Eat probiotic-rich foods like yoghurt, miso and other fermented dishes
- Get a relaxing massage
- Find ways to be grateful
Oxytocin, the love hormone
Oxytocin is a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter while also playing an important role during reproduction. In females, the hormone triggers labor and the release of breastmilk, while in males, oxytocin helps move sperm. According to research by Dr Olga A. Wudarczyk, Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, University of Oxford, UK, some of oxytocin’s relationship enhancing effects include trust, empathy, positive memories, fidelity, positive communication and processing of bonding cues. Your body can release oxytocin when you:
- Listen to your favourite song
- Have fun with your pets
- Spend time with your loved ones
- Kiss, hug or cuddle
- Have sex
- Eat something you really like
Endorphin, the painkiller
Endorphins are your body’s natural pain relievers, which your body produces in response to stress or discomfort. They are produced by the central nervous system and the pituitary gland. Since endorphins act on the opiate receptors in our brains, they reduce pain and boost pleasure, resulting in a feeling of well-being. A study by Dr Judith E Grisel, Furman University, South Carolina, USA, showed a direct relationship between endorphin levels and anxious behaviour in mice. You can perform the following acts to aid a healthy release of endorphins:
- Try aromatherapy
- Eat dark chocolate
- Smile and laugh more often
- Watch your favourite TV show
- Take a hot bath
- Perform an act of kindness
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