With a continuing focus at what makes us happy, this article looks at how our brain chemicals have such an influence on this and what we can do feel happier. There are 4 prominent chemicals that have the most prominent affect. These chemicals, also known as neurotransmitters, are Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin and Endorphins. Each works differently and can be encouraged to be produced differently too. Having an understanding of this can allow us to shape our behaviour to then help influence our levels of happiness.
Dopamine – This provides us with a sense of reward for achievements and fulfilling goals and motivates us to get things done. A lack of dopamine contributes to lethargy, procrastination and feeling unmotivated. Breaking goals down can help us feel a continual sense of reward which helps us to feel good and celebrating achievements is essential for us to feel good. This means that praise, a pat on the back and recognition motivates us hugely.
Serotonin – When we feel significant or important, serotonin production increases and we feel good. Where dopamine is linked to more pleasurable experiences, serotonin is linked to feeling fulfilled and good on a more holistic scale. Having a sense of belonging and strong relationships can help. Also, having fulfilling work that means something to us and having a good sense of appreciation and gratitude help serotonin levels. The mind does not distinguish between what is imagined and what is real when it comes to the production of neurotransmitters so reflecting positively on our past or thinking about past pleasurable experiences also helps.
Oxytocin – This helps us have loving and intimate relationships and is sometimes known as the cuddle hormone. We produce more of it when we’re touched so hugging can help us to feel loved as it increases our oxytocin levels. Orgasms produce more oxytocin and research shows that females produce it more easily from less intimacy, such as from hugging, whereas males need much more stimulation to get the same hormonal hit. This is said the be an influence on why males have a greater tendency to be unfaithful than females. Oxytocin helps us feel loved so can influence fidelity. Presents, attention and gifts from others also helps.
Endorphins – These are released to help us when we feel pain or stress. Endorphin release is well known to be linked to rigorous exercise but they’re also released with laughter too, hence laughing makes us feel good. Incorporating humour in our life can help maintain a good level of happiness.
So, what can we do with this information? This tells us that our behaviours and choices can have a tangible physical effect on how we feel. If you’re generally happy in life, it’s likely to be linked to the choices you’ve made, the way you look after yourself and the values you uphold. It could also be influenced by having a biological predisposition to being happier where your mind is naturally producing more than average in the same way some people are biologically more likely to be depressed.
With this information, we can choose to live our lives to feel happier. For example, we can choose to look after ourselves in healthy ways, engage in fulfilling occupations, look after others, live our values and love others to increase our levels of contentment. If we’re feeling low we can look to alter our behaviours to lift us such as thinking back to pleasant experiences, having a hug or being intimate, doing something to engage our sense of humour or exercising.
One of the great things about Happiness is, that it’s infectious. Others are influenced by our mood so we can raise the happiness levels around us. When we feel happy, we find it easier to appreciate things and look after ourselves well which creates a greater sense of happiness. All of this stimulates the parts of the brain responsible for joy and contentment and the more these parts are stimulated, the more active they become, meaning it’s easier for us to experience joy. This is a positive spiral.
I hope this has provoked the odd thought or two and as always, please feel free to question and comment.
Christopher, B. (2012). The Neurochemicals of Happiness. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201211/the-neurochemicals-happiness [Accessed 19 Jun. 2019].
Dariush DFARHUD, M. (2014). Happiness & Health: The Biological Factors- Systematic Review Article. [online] PubMed Central (PMC). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4449495/ [Accessed 19 Jun. 2019].
The Utopian Life. (2014). Hacking Into Your Happy Chemicals: Dopamine, Serotonin, Endorphins, & Oxytocin. [online] Available at: https://theutopianlife.com/2014/10/14/hacking-into-your-happy-chemicals-dopamine-serotonin-endorphins-oxytocin/ [Accessed 20 Jun. 2019].