Happiness for me is a warm cup of tea on a slow Sunday night, curled up with a blanket and a book.
No matter who you ask, each person’s definition of happiness will look a bit different, varying in terms of location, time of day, and company.
While many know what makes ourselves happy (whether it’s coffee or tea, books or a movie), fewer of us know why these acts and rituals result in a lift to our spirits and a newfound skip in our step.
Although the changes in our mood may seem random and uncontrollable, thanks to neuroscientists and psychologists, there’s an ever growing body of research around the science of happiness, to link our everyday actions with the feelings and mood that shift as a result.
These studies have linked four specific brain chemicals—Dopamine, Endorphins, Serotonin, Oxytocin (D.O.S.E.)—with changes in mood and attitude, and the way to trigger the release of these chemicals in your brain may be easier than you’d think.
If you’re looking to have these brain chemicals explained, look no further than below to discover how to hack your daily D.O.S.E. of happiness for a more balanced and blissful life.
What It Is: Associated with pleasure-seeking and perseverance, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that gets released when your brain expects a reward. Consider dopamine your “motivation molecule,” or the engine behind your focus and concentration on a specific goal or task. Whenever you complete a task, goal, or project, your body naturally releases dopamine to give you that post-success high.
Why It Matters: Beyond motivation, dopamine also improves memory and learning, and is the chemical behind our human ability to create complex thought and language. High levels of dopamine help with mood and deeper sleep, for a healthy, balanced life.
Dopamine-Boosting Hacks: Boost your dopamine by taking a cold shower, making a to-do list, having sex, meditating, listening to instrumental music, and, surprisingly, taking care of your gut. According to Frontiers in Immunology, 50% of dopamine is produced within your gastrointestinal tract, making what you eat a huge part of your happiness health. For that reason, consider consuming probiotics and eating protein to keep a stable, well-balanced gut.
What It Is: Known as the “love hormone,” Oxytocin is a hypothalamic nonapeptide that increases through social interaction and sensory stimulation. Found at higher levels in persons who menstruate, oxytocin gets released when breastfeeding and during pregnancy.
Why It Matters: Oxytocin is a hormone that forms deeper social bonds, leading to overall well-being and stress reduction. It can be used as a soothing mechanism to help the body stay calm in the face of otherwise stressful situations, and also treat conditions such as depression, anxiety, and intestinal issues.
Oxytocin-Boosting Hacks: To increase your oxytocin, you can take part in any of the following activities:
- Romantic intimacy
- Skin stimulation
- Food intake
What It Is: Serotonin is a mood-modulating neurotransmitter, produced primarily in the gut. Created by combining tryptophan (an essential amino acid that humans get from their diet) with enzymes, serotonin assists with the prevention of blood clotting and overall mental health.
Why It Matters: In addition to lowering anxiety and depression, serotonin also helps regulate appetite, promote learning and memory, and improve sleep through regulating a person’s circadian rhythm.
Serotonin-Boosting Hacks: Increase levels of serotonin with a tryptophan-rich diet. Foods rich in tryptophan include:
- Whole-wheat bread
- Seeds & Nuts
- Soy products
Along with a healthy diet, consider trying light therapy, aerobic exercise (swimming, bicycling, brisk walking, jogging, and light hiking), massage therapy, and taking tryptophan supplements (consult a doctor first) to help hack your overall serotonin levels.
What It Is: A natural pain reliever and pleasure enhancer, endorphins are a type of neurotransmitter that releases a rush after an intense workout or pain. These neurotransmitters are a part of our natural reward circuit, and encourage our bodies to function regardless of injury or stress.
Why It Matters: Along with assisting with our bodies’ post-injury recovery, endorphins also are linked with stress reduction, improved self-esteem, weight reduction, and alleviated symptoms of depression.
Endorphin-Boosting Hacks: While most commonly associated with exercise, individuals can also release endorphins through smiling, laughing, watching a comedy, sexual activity, eating dark chocolate, and dancing. On a more passive level, light a candle or burn some incense made of rosemary, citrus fruit, or frankincense, which have been linked with increased release of endorphins.
From dark chocolate to a hike in the woods, there are countless ways to boost your happiness chemicals with small tweaks to your daily diet and routine. Prioritize your mental well-being with your daily D.O.S.E., and build a life that puts joy first.
Photo: Polina Tankilevich via Pexels