Eleanor Roosevelt said that “happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product.” Happiness is indeed a by-product of the emotions which range from contentment to joy. Happiness emanates from our brain through some chemical processes. When we experience joy, the brain releases chemicals known as neurotransmitters which are responsible for those “happy moments.”
Evolution is indeed a miracle. The development of our body functions is all geared towards everything essential for our survival and making us feel good is part of it. The brain alone is the source of many neurochemicals which turns our everyday struggles into pleasure, happiness being the main goal.
We may not even be cognizant of the fact that feelings of happiness are made possible by distinct chemicals in our brains called neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitter, when released, will send a message from one neuron cell to another cell, nerve, organ or body tissue.
Aside from neurotransmitters, there are also some “happy hormones” in the body. These hormones are also associated with happiness. While neurotransmitters are released by the nervous system, hormones are chemicals secreted by the body’s endocrine system. This article will hopefully help achieve happiness the natural way.
The Main Happy Hormones
What are happy hormones? How can such substances make us feel good? Is there a way to get more of these substances in our body? Interesting questions and possibly we can even get more interesting answers.
Basically, “happy hormones” usually refer to dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin, and serotonin. All these are neurotransmitters and are not hormones. Many of us have heard about the hormone adrenaline, also known as epinephrine. This chemical is usually associated with a fight-or-flight scenario, where it can give us temporary “superpowers” in times of emergencies. But adrenaline per se is not a happy hormone for the simple reason that it does not make us happy, just very highly excitable! Here are some of the major happy hormones which occur naturally in the body:
Dopamine. This is also known as the “pleasure hormone.” It’s stimulated when one strives to achieve a goal. This hormone sort of acts as a motivator to help us act towards the fulfillment of a goal. When that happens, we experience the happiness of the reward.
Endorphins. Many of us are familiar with endorphins as it has been used to relieve pain. It is not advisable to mask one’s pain with endorphins for long periods of time because this will cause serious damage to the body. The name is a shortened term for “endogenous morphine,” endorphins. This is produced by the human body, and it’s a natural painkiller.
Oxytocin. Usually referred to as the “love hormone,” oxytocin is released into the bloodstream when experiencing physical contact. Huge amounts of the hormone are released during sexual intercourse and childbirth. But even a simple old hug can do the same but on a minor scale. The presence of the hormone will provide feelings of trust and love which will then boost happiness in relationships.
Serotonin. Serotonin is a mood booster, makes us more sociable and agreeable. However, the lack of it can make us irritable and can lead us to depression.
Of course, there are more hormones in the body. In fact, there are a lot of them. There are some ways to increase the happy hormones in the body. Consider these helpful tips:
Exercise and Stay Fit
Exercise seems to be a favorite time for happy hormones to get released into the body’s system. Rigorous exercise stimulates endorphins to kick in while low-impact ones would release serotonin. Whatever degree the exercise is, happy hormones will always make their presence. This is the reason why those who engage in regular exercise activities have good self-esteem, are motivated and most of all, happy. The following sports can induce happy hormone production. Some are rigorous, some low-impact.
- House chores
- Low impact aerobics
- Playing tennis
To make exercise more interesting, join an exercise club. Group activities can always heighten the state of focus, and this will cause the release of the happy molecule, anandamide. Many other hormones are triggered when one starts his routine exercises. Other benefits that one can get through exercise are the following:
- Help reduce body fat
- Improvement of the muscle strength and tone
- Increase in energy levels
- Lowers blood pressure
- Makes you fit and healthy
- Strengthening of the heart muscles
- Strengthens and builds bones
Exercise, therefore, will not only keep our bodies strong and healthy, but it can also improve our mood and energy levels through the increased production of happy hormones. Incorporate exercise as a part of daily life. Three to four times a week would be a good start. One needs not go to the gym to accomplish this, especially if he is under time constraints. Brisk walking, dancing, gardening, and getting on and off the bus are exercises enough to wake up those happy hormones.
Remember oxytocin? That “love hormone” that can make one feel good with a mere hug? People should realize the importance of contacting friends and family, both socially and physically. Either way, it will increase the levels of oxytocin. Go out there and make more friends. Here are some tips great things to do:
Get a massage. If one has no date lined up for the night, do some splurging by indulging with a good massage. This will not only relax the person physically, but the contact when rubbing the muscles will trigger the release of happy hormones. If a massage is not available, watch a captivating movie. This may also wake up those happy hormones.
Hug. A person can get an extra boost of oxytocin whenever he hugs someone. Go out there and do some serious hugging, but of course, only with relatives or close friends. A mere 30-second hug with will activate those neurons to release oxytocin.
When it comes to hugging, don’t be reluctant or feeble, throw 100% into it. Hold on tight and lovingly. One can even rest his head on his partner’s shoulder. Do this to demonstrate love and make sure it lasts. Doing this can one happy with those happy hormones doing their job.
Laugh. Endorphins are not just triggered by rigorous exercise. They can also be called upon by a heavy dose of laughter. It’s common that laughter always will make us feel happy, unknowing that endorphins are behind all that.
Watch a comedy movie or read a funny book or a television sitcom. Stay up the last hours of Saturday and watch SNL. Anything that would elicit laughter. We can never laugh enough!
Many foods are responsible for the production of certain happy hormones in the body. Include in the diet spinach, mussels, asparagus, salmon, eggs, dark chocolate, avocados, legumes, and more. These foods increase the progesterone and estrogen levels in the body. But it doesn’t mean that we discard all other foods, especially those sticky but yummy buns. Indulge at least once a week just in breaking the monotony.
There are nutrients the brain needs to produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Choose foods with high contents of folate, iron, and vitamin B12 to make this possible. Remember that unhealthy eating habits will shrink the brain, and this can lead to brain disorders. Here are some tips for following happiness diets:
- Decrease the amounts of processed foods eaten.
- Eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- With meats, choose those that come from grass-fed animals.
Don’t inhibit yourself to the vast variety of foods out there. A wider selection of whole foods translates to a broader range of nutrients that boost the brain. And more of these will energize your mind better, making you merrier. Consider the following happy foods expressed in pun-lingo:
Avocados. This fruit has time and again made it in the most nutritious list and rightly so because it does contain many nutrients essential to the body. About happy hormones, the fruit is rich in choline which helps boost the production of dopamine and serotonin. Avocados can also aid in keeping concentration and energy naturally high.
Beetroot. This often-neglected vegetable contains betaine which is responsible for stimulating the production of S-adenosyl methionine so SAM-e. This substance is essential in the production of dopamine, a happy hormone.
Cacao. This is the fruit where all those chocolate concoctions originate from. In its most natural form, cacao can offer the body many health benefits. It contains theobromine, which is a non-addictive stimulant which is released gradually.
Greens. B vitamins in the body are subject to depletion during times of high-level stress and such times will stimulate the production of the hormone cortisol. This is not a happy hormone. Cortisol will reduce the serotonin levels in the body, and we all know what that means, not much happy hormones anymore.
Luckily, B vitamins can be replenished by consuming a variety of green leafy vegetables. The B vitamins promote the production and function of both hormones. Greens are also rich in antioxidants which are responsible for preventing neuron damage, thus improving cognitive functioning.
Nuts. Brazil nuts, anyone? They are not just tasty but nutritious as well. The nut contains high amounts of selenium and tyrosine, both which help in boosting dopamine and serotonin levels. Just three Brazil nuts each day will give you your RDA requirement of selenium.
Spices. Many spicy foods contain the chemical Capsaicin which is effective in boosting endorphins levels. This gives more reason now to order those super-spicy foods in the restaurants.
Give Yourself a Break
Often, the demands and hustles of everyday life can raise the stress levels which can deeply affect one’s persona. Many have turned to Asian practices to be relieved from such stresses. Gift yourself an invaluable experience by learning how to meditate. The practice can bring person happiness, joy, peace of mind, insight, self-friendship, clarity, and awareness.
Again, our happy hormones are at the center of this exercise. When one is in meditation, the body will trigger the release of different hormones. Meditation can be done in several ways. Try each until you find one that sits well. The practice should not be forced, it should be spontaneous, natural, and should arise from within.
Meditation is an old practice but is now coming to light as an effective way to fight stress, especially in this 21st-century living. The practice will involve quiet thought, contemplation, and reflection to counter stress. When in meditation, the body will stimulate the production of endorphins which can turn-off stress hormones by lowering cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone but not a happy one. It’s usually associated with the fight-or-flight stress response.
Meditation causes the hypothalamus to stimulate the pituitary gland to release endorphins. This is the most popular happy hormone which can promote relaxation, self-healing, and an individual’s overall well being.
One needs to involve himself in some activity every day to maintain estrogen levels. Exercise and meditation will immensely help. At times when anxiety may be taking over, play some games and puzzles or listen to soothing music, any relaxing activity will do. Always find avenues to stay calm. Bear in mind that when estrogen levels drop, depression and anxiety can occur. Estrogen and the lack of it can affect any part of the body. Do anything to keep the stress levels down so cortisol levels won’t increase.
This may come as a surprise, but a regular practice on controlled breathing can do wonders. According to the well-known psychologist Dr. Elaine Slater, “A conscious diaphragmatic breathing can instantly turn on that branch of the nervous system responsible for restorative rest, repair and recovery.” Furthermore, she says that “It is a proven way of interrupting the body’s stress response and re-balancing the nervous system by releasing neurotransmitters such as endorphins into the body.” Again, the release of endorphins is also involved when we practice controlled deep breathing.
Aside from this, one should also go out into the sun regularly. Exposing our skin to sunlight is beneficial as this is a natural source of vitamin D which in turn is essential in strengthening our bones, fighting depression and boosting our immunity against diseases. Vitamin D is also important in the release of serotonin, one of our happy hormones.
This practice is relatively new, but its benefits have been proven. The sense of smell has the strongest impact on the brain as compared to the other senses. Some scents can make one feel fresh and good and can alter the mood. Try aromatherapy when feeling down or depressed. When the scent is agreeable, it can jumpstart the production of happy hormones. Here are some of the more popular scents that can boost happy hormones:
- Allspice, cinnamon, and cloves
- Rosemary and basil
Endorphins can set off the short euphoria that can relieve pain. For a better fix, try lighting a candle, specifically with the scent of lavender and vanilla and see the magic happen because these herbs have been found to boost your happy endorphins hormones.