Simple pleasures can help you unlock your happiness hormones. Gemma McCaw says these practical tips are your shortcut to finding joy.
Happiness is something we all strive for, but there are days when it feels harder than others to achieve it. However, we all have more control over our happiness than we might think, and by understanding the way our brain’s “happy hormones” work, we can learn some simple ways to get them flowing.
There are four main chemicals in the brain which are responsible for happiness: dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins. Rather than being in the passenger’s seat of this bodily process, science has proven that, without a doubt, we can take control and hack these hormones.
Happiness can be found in all sorts of seemingly insignificant activities which give our brain a feel-good boost
Happiness can be found in all sorts of seemingly insignificant activities which give our brain a feel- good boost. And because our brains are a positive feedback system, it means that being happy often leads to more happiness.
So if you’re feeling a little down or just want quick “ways to feel good every day, these simple solutions will be sure to boost your mood.
Also known as the “feel-good” hormone, dopamine is responsible for the brain’s reward system. It’s released when the brain receives a signal that you’ve performed an action or task that should be rewarded. It motivates us to take action toward goals, desires and needs, and gives a surge of pleasure when achieving them.
To give yourself a dopamine hit, complete a task and actively acknowledge it. Take the time to notice and celebrate even your smallest wins. Our nutrition is also linked to dopamine, so eat less saturated fats and increase your protein intake by including turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy and legumes. Practice self-care, too: treat yourself to a massage, read a book, or take a bath. Tell yourself you deserve it.
This is our love hormone and is released through the expression of intimacy and affection. It’s an essential ingredient when it comes to childbirth and breastfeeding, with studies in animals showing mothers reject their offspring when oxytocin is blocked. Oxytocin is also vital for healthy relationships, with the hormone proven to promote trust, empathy and bonding between partners.
A simple hug can boost our oxytocin levels, as can playing with a dog, cuddling a baby, holding hands with someone, sharing a hug and even giving and receiving compliments. Neuroeconomics expert Dr Paul Zak recommends we should all be aiming for eight hugs a day to boost our happiness!
A natural pain reliever, endorphins help us deal with both physical and emotional pain. Endorphin levels can be increased by reward-producing activities like exercise, watching a funny movie or TV show, eating dark chocolate and doing things that make us laugh. Ever experience the post- workout rush of joyful energy? That’s your endorphins at work.
The so-called “mood stabilizing” hormone is also responsible for regulating our sleep, appetite, digestion and memory.
On days when you don’t feel at your best, yet can’t put your finger on exactly why, you may need a serotonin boost. Take time out for meditation – mindfulness has been proven to elevate serotonin and, therefore, mood. Spend time in the sun; our skin absorbs UV rays, which promote vitamin D and serotonin production. Walking in nature, or going for a run, swim or cycle also has a positive effect on our mood.