Well, whoever said “happiness comes from within” knew exactly what they were saying. You may not know this, but when you feel good, your brain is releasing one of 4 happy chemicals: Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, or Endorphin.
Okok hold up. If we have FOUR HAPPY chemicals in our brain, then why do we feel sad? Why do we feel pain? And why am I crying right now..?
The truth is, buddy, because nothing lasts forever! We want these good feelings all the time, but unfortunately those chemicals don’t get summoned for no reason; they’re designed to reward you with good feelings when you do something good for your survival. Our brain defines survival in a quirky way, though, which is why we all do quirky things to feel good.
So how can we hack our brains to feel like this more often?
“The Reward Chemical”
Dopamine is known as the “feel-good neurotransmitter”, or the “reward chemical”; your brain releases Dopamine after you have reached a goal, even a goal as small as eating food you have been craving for a while.
The hormone is spread widely in the brain when you achieve some kind of goal leaving you rejuvenated and energized. Brain Goals!
Low levels of Dopamine are linked with procrastination, self-doubt, and lack of enthusiasm, which will notably impact your quality of sleep. But regulating the hormone motivates you to take action towards your goals, desires and needs. It also gives you a surge of great pleasure in achieving them.
Good news is, there are ways to up someone’s Dopamine levels, and basic self-care is where you can start:
Get adequate and consistent sleep (7-8 hours).
Break big goals down into little pieces so you can create a series of tiny victories and little complete tasks, which releases Dopamine.
Be consistent in doing self-care activities that suit you and enhance your mental health, which will give you some sense of accomplishment.
Exercise as much as you can; it releases happy chemicals. Besides, exercising regularly creates a stronger and better hit of Dopamine on each time.
According to science, though, you can stay in bed all day and still feel “rewarded”; eating chocolate and food rich in tyrosine (some kind of amino acid) including cheese, meat, fish, dairy, soy, nuts, beans, lentils, and among others, stimulate the brain to release Dopamine, which could give you the same effect as winning the Oscars!
“The Love Hormone”
Famously known as the “love hormone” or the “cuddle hormone” *wink wink*, because it is released by the brain on intimate social bonding moments. It’s mainly released during physical touch such as (consensual) kissing, cuddling and sexual intimacy, and by mothers during childbirth and breastfeeding.
Our brain can also release Oxytocin simply by holding hands or hugging! So, a simple way of keeping the love hormone flowing is to give someone a hug. This chemical is important because it creates empathy, trust and strengthens relationships.
But what about singles? What about Introverts? Don’t they have the right to feel loved even with nobody around?
Being alone has never been easier; you can trick your brain into releasing the love hormone without actually having a significant other, or even without touching a human being altogether:
Self-Affirmation – e.g. “I am worthy of love and respect”.
Giving gifts to your loved ones will cause the Oxytocin levels to rise.
Playing with babies stimulates the brain to release the hormone (but that’s only until they start crying! Definitely.)
According to a 2009 study, playing with your furry friends (aka pets) can cause an oxytocin surge; pets induce the release of “happy” and “love” hormones even after only five minutes of cuddling!
A research from 2013 suggests yoga may help increase Oxytocin production.
Get (or give) a massage, and no, it doesn’t have to be a professional one. Massage boosts Oxytocin levels in the blood.
Give people random compliments; it activates Oxytocin release.
Not a fan of social interactions? No worries, we’ve got you covered!
Recent studies have shown that adding certain foods to your menu can trigger the production of Oxytocin:
Increase your intake of Vitamin D by eating fatty fish, mushrooms, eggs or fortified foods.
Vitamin C which can be found in most fruits and vegetables such as peppers, citrus fruits, tomatoes and broccoli.
Figs, avocados, watermelon, and spinach are proven to be excellent Oxytocin boosters, too!
And of course, our one and only, dark chocolate; the magnesium in chocolate helps with your Oxytocin receptor.
Chocolate also contains phenylethylamine, the exact same chemical our brain produces when we fall in love. So, no love life? Eat chocolate!
So, yes, it’s scientifically proven that you can be a lover – with or without a lover. (you’re welcome!)
“The Mood Stabilizer”
Known as the “mood stabilizer” or the “happy chemical”, Serotonin contributes to wellbeing and happiness. It plays a major role in the body, as it doesn’t only influence the psychological functions, but the physiological ones, as well; it is mostly found in the brain, guts, and blood platelets that helps in healing wounds (we mean physical wounds. The emotional ones never really go away..yk).
Serotonin is believed to help regulate social behavior, appetite, digestion, sleep, and memory. So, low levels of Serotonin don’t only cause bad mood, but also poor memory. And it doesn’t end here, this also may lead to anxiety, aggression, and low self-esteem (angry at yourself? Blame it on Serotonin).
Sadly though, this happy chemical only flows when we feel significant or important, and depression is present when Serotonin is absent.
Is there a way to boost our Serotonin body release, though? Yes, here’s how:
Gratitude practices; keep a gratitude journal, reflect on your past wins and think of happy memories to smile more often. It can help remind you how valued and significant you are.
Daily sun exposure is EXTREMELY healthy for boosting your Serotonin levels (but don’t forget to apply some sunscreen, first!).
Mindfulness activities such as: meditating, swimming, running, walking in nature, cycling…etc.
Deep breathing exercise.
Physical exercise, in general, has proven to have an antidepressant effect of its own, and some research has suggested that it can increase brain Serotonin function.
More into chemical-inducing food? No problem!
Foods that have tryptophan (another kind of amino acid) are believed to improve mood and cognition, due to increased Serotonin levels. You can find high levels of tryptophan in:
BANANAS; they contain HIGH levels of Serotonin, and they have been highly recommended for lifting mood.
Ever wondered why the Minions are always acting bananas? Yep, it’s THE bananas.
High-protein foods, such as oatmeal, turkey, eggs, salmon, and cheese
Until now, there’s little evidence that a certain diet can affect mood or depressive symptoms. So, if you experience severe, unusual, and prolonged low mood, it’s better to seek professional help.
Endorphin, or the “painkiller” is a hormonal compound that is made inside the body in response to pain or extreme physical exertion.
Endorphins give a similar effect to morphine, which is why the word “endorphin” comes from putting together the words “endogenous,” meaning from within, and “morphine,” which is an opium-like pain reliever. In other words, endorphin is a natural pain reliever that’s released during exercise.
But, do Endorphins only act when it’s too late? Lucky for us, no, they also regulate the fight-or-flight response, and boost pleasure, which results in a feeling of well-being.
So, yes, Endorphins are released in response to pain, but they’re also released during other important activities such as eating, exercise, or sex; they minimize discomfort and pain, and maximize pleasure. This helps us to continue functioning, despite stress or injury.
Endorphin deficiency could reflect on your body in the form of prolonged aches, impulsive behavior, trouble sleeping, and more.
However, as we provided you with tricks to play on your brain earlier, we definitely won’t abandon you here!
So, how to naturally boost Endorphins?
Don’t worry, we won’t tell you to run an entire marathon to feel the pleasurable effects of an endorphin release. Your body can naturally do it with the least muscular energy exerted, as follows:
Aromatherapy, scented candles and essential oils are believed to induce Endorphin body release.
Take a sauna.
Eat spicy food. (believe it or not, but Yes.)
Watch a horror movie (tried it ourselves and works like magic!!)
Practice Laughter Yoga more often (or just watch a comedy TV show or movie).
Annndd, of course, dark chocolate. It’s the answer for everything.
Brain chemicals research is not conclusive, and there is still plenty for experts to discover about those hormones. Yes, it may seem like chocolate is the key to happiness, but sadly, every now and then, our brains change the locks.
The truth is we all function differently, so, if you managed to follow the previously mentioned activities and still noticed difficulties in performing minimal daily activities or issues with social interactions/relationships, it’s best to seek professional guidance from a therapist.
Don’t hesitate to do whatever it takes to build a healthy relationship with yourself and others around you. You have our full support.