Happiness chemicals and how to hack them
I think it's fair to say that we would all like to be more happy. Whilst we can agree on that, I'm sure we can also all agree that happiness is fleeting and something that comes and goes.
In this blog post we are delving into the chemicals we know from science that help to produce feelings of happiness and the activities that are shown to help promote these chemicals.
First of all, let's look at what these chemicals (known as hormones) are and what their role in the body is.
Happiness Hormones, what are hormones and where do they come from?
Simply put, hormones are like little chemical messengers created in the Endocrine System; a system of glands and organs that are responsible for creating and distributing hormones into the bloodstream. They are the way our body communicates with itself. The Pituitary gland, Thyroid gland, Adrenal gland, Ovaries and Testes are all parts of this system along with many other lesser-known organs too. Endocrinology (the study of this system) still has much to learn and uncover about our hormones and the glands that produce them.
Our behaviours and mood are generally shaped by these hormones as they are released throughout the day even though we are generally unaware that it's happening. I find the relationship between mind and body and the fact we are all just walking bags of chemicals to be fascinating. The human body is a truly magnificent thing yet there is still much we don't know about the inner workings of the body and all its functions.
In the case of hormones relationships to feelings, we do know from Endocrinology for instance that, the lovely rush of warmth and contentment you feel when interacting lovingly with the people closest to you is actually Oxytocin. It encourages and rewards behaviours that strengthen family bonds.
The feeling of blissed-out, high-energy and satisfaction after going for a jog? That would be Endorphins doing their thing, reducing your perception of pain and heightening feelings of pleasure.
But what if instead of just waiting for hormones to be released when we do something that makes us feel good, we did things to intentionally trigger them; to motivate us to have healthier habits in our work, leisure time and relationships?
Even though you may not want to, a long hug after an argument with a loved one, (lasting 20 seconds) will trigger maximum release of Oxytocin (as well as Serotonin, the mood stabilising and happiness hormone) making you feel closer, reducing stress and telling your brain that you feel safe and loved again. Thus helps to mend the bond you felt was broken with the warming help of Oxytocin.
The four happiness hormones & how to hack them
Oxytocin - Oxytocin is often known as ‘the bonding hormone’. It’s released when we feel safe, connected, and close to people we trust.
Its purpose (outside of childbirth) is to strengthen bonds between humans, help parents bond with their babies, maintain family units and bring mates closer together.
Oxytocin hacks to stimulate naturally -
- Stroking a pet, interacting with animals lovingly
- Being in close company of friends and family and being affectionate
- Giving compliments
- Holding hands
- Hugging for 20 seconds
- Giving or receiving massage (scalp massage)
- Preparing and sharing food with loved ones
Serotonin - Serotonin probably rings a bell to you, it is most commonly known as the hormone responsible for ones mood and happiness and has even been featured in numerous songs lyrics over the years. You may also be familiar with Serotonin as most anti-depressants that are prescribed have a purpose of increasing Serotonin in the brain.
Serotonin is most commonly associated with mood regulation, balanced sleeping patterns, improving happiness and decreasing anxiety.
Serotonin hacks to stimulate naturally -
- Getting some sun (where possible) enjoying the warmth of sun on your eyelids can greatly enhance mood and also help to boost your levels of Vitamin D
- Aerobic exercise such a running, swimming or cycling helps to release Tryptophan in to the bloodstream which is then converted in to Serotonin
- Meditating, try Apps like Headspace or Calm if you are new to meditation
- Getting out for a walk in nature. Try escaping the city for a leafy country or woodland walk
Dopamine - Dopamine is the reward hormone that is organically released from things like praise, positive outcomes, winning and food.
Evolutionarily, Dopamine gave our body a reason to keep going back for more (in the wild, going back for more when it comes to food and success is pretty important).
Dopamine hacks to stimulate naturally -
- Eating your favourite foods as a treat ( in moderation )
- Having gratitude for the little wins in life
- Practicing self care
- Listening to feel-good music
- Finishing a task or project you started
Extra bonus hack for Dopamine release and a useful tactic for productivity is to break bigger tasks in to smaller parts and deliberately reward yourself internally each time you complete the smaller task as this still releases Dopamine which propels you to complete the whole task.
Endorphin - Endorphin is heavily involved in the fight or flight response and is actually a natural pain killer. It acts on the same opiate receptors in the brain that Morphine does and helps manage pain, reduce stress and increase pleasure and is released when we are stressed or in pain but also when we are working up a sweat at the gym or eating.
Endorphin hacks to stimulate naturally -
- Laughing with friends, watching/listening to comedy
- Being creative through art or design, gardening or anything that gets your juices flowing
- Aromatherapy oils like rosemary, lavender, citrus etc
- Last but not least, having sex
So they're you have it, some easy to implement hacks in order to help you maximise the release of happiness hormones.
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