On a chemical level, our happiness basically stems from levels of four hormones (or neurotransmitters): 1) dopamine, 2) serotonin, 3) endorphin, & 4) oxytocin. Each plays a unique role in making us feel good.
- Dopamine drives reward-seeking behavior in our brains. If you eat something delicious or have an orgasm, & your brain releases some dopamine. Dopamine produces feelings of pleasure & satisfaction, according to Psychology Today. Dopamine is an important part of what makes us human. It gives us our drive to discover & succeed.
- Serotonin acts like the ballast in a ship. Serotonin keep us emotionally stable, according to Hormone Health Network. People with insufficient levels of serotonin may be prone to depression or anxiety. & those with too much may experience decreased arousal. According to Psychology Today, higher serotonin is linked to higher rejection sensitivity. People with high rejection sensitivity challenge themselves more frequently, boosting self-esteem when they succeed.
- Endorphins are chemically like opiates with their potent analgesic effects. Endorphins flow from the pituitary & hypothalamus during strenuous exercise, sex, & orgasm, according to Psychology Today. The pain-numbing effects of endorphins have evolutionary advantages, since they came in handy when we were injured & running for our life from a saber-tooth tiger.
- Oxytocin is a vital neurotransmitter, especially at birth, when it acts as a trust-promoting chemical, according to Psychology Today. Oxytocin is responsible for the happiness we associate with bonding. This can either be the bond between mother & child, or the feeling you get when you’re in a group of close friends. Oxytocin comes along only intermittently, or else we would always trust people who are untrustworthy.
How can we harness our happiness neurotransmitters & hormones?
- If you want to boost dopamine (according to Psychology Today) you should prioritize a good night’s sleep. Ways to increase your dopamine levels include adequate sleep, exercise, & certain protein rich foods (which have lots of tyrosine).
- Dopamine is involved in not only happiness, but also reward, motivation, memory & attention. Decreased dopamine levels are associated with decreased motivation & lack of enthusiasm for things (that would normally excite you).
- In order to boost dopamine, you should prioritize a good night’s sleep. Regular high-quality sleep is best. Dopamine levels are highest in the morning when its time to wake up & lowest in the evening when it’s time for bed.
- You should consume tyrosine-rich foods – like seeds, nuts, beans, lentils, meats, fish, soy, dairy, & cheeses. And eat less saturated fats. It is also helpful to limit your processed foods & caffeine & increase your magnesium intake.
- Exercise also simulates dopamine release. Exercising often is a great way to boost dopamine levels. Doing one hour of yoga 6 days a week increases dopamine levels. Listening to music & meditation also increase dopamine levels.
- If you want to boost serotonin (according to a meta-analysis in Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience) consider light therapy, is a common intervention used for seasonal affective disorder.
- If you want to boost serotonin levels consider spending time in the sunshine, going outside & getting in the sun. There is evidence that serotonin levels are higher in the brain during daylight hours.
- Exercise also boosts serotonin. Aerobic exercise is best for releasing serotonin in your brain – exercises such as swimming, biking, walking, jogging, hiking. Several studies indicated higher levels of serotonin metabolites in cerebrospinal fluid after exercise.
- Foods rich in tryptophan – milk, tuna, turkey, or chicken – may also help the brain produce more serotonin. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is converted to serotonin in your brain.
- Massage therapy increases both serotonin and dopamine levels.
- If you want to boost endorphins, exercise is the quickest way to raise endorphin levels in your brain (according to a Psychology study). Endorphin levels rise about 30 minutes after exercise. You need moderate-intensity exercise for maximum euphoria (according to a Neuropsychopharmacology study).
- More sedentary options to increase endorphins include meditation, laughter, sex, & chocolate (according to the Psychology study). We also get an endorphin boost from eating peppers & green chilis. There are specific mood-boosting & inflammation-reducing benefits of chocolate.
- Enjoying a small amount of wine at the end of the day can boost endorphins. Both red & white wine contain antioxidants.
- Getting a massage boosts endorphins & it leaves you feeling relaxed, relieved, and revived. You just lie down & let the good feelings flow.
- Meditation involves simply relaxing & focusing the mind. Meditation triggers the release of endorphins & helps increase dopamine, serotonin, & melatonin. These chemicals leave you feeling calm, happy, & content.
- Oxytocin is an integral hormone in mother-child bonding & is thought of as the “love hormone.” The feeling of love is more complicated than any one hormone. If you want to boost oxytocin levels, touch is best way (according to Psychology Today).
- You could hug or cuddle a partner, pet a dog or cat, or watch an emotional movie (according to a study in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences). Also, orgasms increase oxytocin.
- An Archives of Sexual Behavior study showed an increase in oxytocin levels after orgasm in men & women. In women, the higher the subjective intensity of the orgasms, the higher their levels of oxytocin.
- Oxytocin is an integral hormone in mother-child bonding & is called the “love hormone.” Oxytocin levels go sky high with breastfeeding. Snuggling with your baby is just as good.
- So, have a baby, have an orgasm, watch an emotional movie, or give and receive some hugs.
Adapted from https://www.mdlinx.com/physiciansense/what-do-sex-chocolate-and-exercise-have-in-common-research-explains by Jonathan Ford Hughes 12/9/20.