Hacking Into Your Happy Chemicals: Dopamine, Serotonin, Endorphins and Oxytocin
Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins are the quartet responsible for our happiness. Many events can trigger these neurotransmitters, but rather than being in the passenger seat, there are ways we can intentionally cause them to ﬂow.
For those of you who can't golf this winter, I thought you might try these hints to induce the release of our happiness hormones and capture that same "golf high" without actually golfing.
“Follow your bliss.
If you do follow your bliss,
you put yourself on a kind of path
that has been there all the while waiting for you. The life you ought to be living
is the one you are living.
I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid,
and you will find doors will open
where you didn't know they were going to be.
If you follow your bliss,
doors will open for you that wouldn't have opened for anyone else.” Joseph Campbell
We might not have a money tree, but we can have a happiness tree. Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins are the quartet responsible for our happiness. Many events can trigger these neurotransmitters, but rather than being in the passenger seat, there are ways we can intentionally cause them to ﬂow.
Being in a positive state has signiﬁcant impact on our motivation, productivity, and wellbeing. No sane person would be opposed to having higher levels in those areas.
Here are some simple ways to hack into our positive neurochemicals: Dopamine
Dopamine motivates us to take action toward goals, desires, and needs, and gives a surge of reinforcing pleasure when achieving them. Procrastination, self-doubt, and lack of enthusiasm are linked with low levels of dopamine. Studies on rats showed those with low levels of dopamine always opted for an easy option and less food; those with higher levels exerted the eﬀort needed to receive twice the amount of food.
Break big goals down into little pieces — rather than only allowing our brains to celebrate when we’ve hit the ﬁnish line, we can create a series of little ﬁnish lines which releases dopamine. And it’s crucial to actually celebrate — buy a bottle of wine, or head to your favorite restaurant whenever you meet a small goal.
Instead of being left with a dopamine hangover, create new goals before achieving your current one. That ensures a continual ﬂow for experiencing dopamine. As a friend, you could recognize the accomplishments of your fellow golfers and see how quickly it comes back to you in a compliment on your performance, Acknowlege good shots or remind someone of a particularly good shot they made one time. This will allow you and others to have a dopamine hit and increase future motivation and performance.
Serotonin ﬂows when you feel signiﬁcant or important. Loneliness and depression appears when serotonin is absent. Unhealthy attention-seeking behavior can also be a cry for what serotonin brings. Princeton neuroscientist Barry Jacobs explains that most antidepressants focus on the production of serotonin.
Reﬂecting on past signiﬁcant achievements allows the brain to re-live the experience. Our brain has trouble telling the diﬀerence between what’s real and imagined, so it produces serotonin in both cases. It’s another reason why gratitude practices are popular. They remind us that we are valued and have much to value in life. If you need a serotonin boost during a stressful day, take a few moments to reﬂect on a past achievements and victories. Have lunch or coﬀee outside and expose yourself to the sun for 20 minutes; our skin absorbs UV rays, which promotes vitamin D and serotonin production. Although too much ultraviolet light isn’t good, some daily exposure is healthy to boost serotonin levels.
Oxytocin creates intimacy, trust, and builds healthy relationships. It’s released by men and women during orgasm, and by mothers during childbirth and breastfeeding. Animals will reject their oﬀspring when the release of oxytocin is blocked. Oxytocin increases ﬁdelity; men in monogamous relationships who were given a boost of oxytocin interacted with single women at a greater physical distance then men who weren’t given any oxytocin. The cultivation of oxytocin is essential for creating strong bonds and improved social interactions. Often referred to as the cuddle hormone, a simple way to keep oxytocin ﬂowing is to give someone a hug. Dr. Paul Zak explains that inter-personal touch not only only raises oxytocin, but reduces cardiovascular stress and improves the immune system; rather than just a hand shake, go in for the hug. Dr. Zak recommends eight hugs each day.
When someone receives a gift, their oxytocin levels can rise. You can strengthen relationships through a simple birthday or anniversary gift. Endorphins are released in response to pain and stress and help to alleviate anxiety and depression. The surging “second wind” and euphoric “runners high” during and after a vigorous run are a result of endorphins. Similar to morphine, it acts as an analgesic and sedative, diminishing our perception of pain. Along with regular exercise, laughter is one of the easiest ways to induce endorphin release. Even the anticipation and expectation of laugher, e.g., attending a comedy show, increases levels of endorphins. Taking your sense of humor to golf, forwarding that funny email, and ﬁnding several things to laugh at during the day is a great way to keep the doctor away.
Aromatherapies: The smell of vanilla and lavender has been linked with the production of endorphins. Studies have shown that dark chocolate and spicy foods can lead the brain to release endorphins. Keep some scented oils, baking bread and some dark chocolate around your house for a quick endorphin boost.
Following your bliss doesn't necessarily mean to discover your bliss. You may already know what brings you joyousness in your life but often we don't give ourselves permission to indulge in it. Try following your bliss this winter, whether it is listening to music, reading, painting, looking a beautiful flowers etc. Next spring lets take an inventory of which techniques worked to get us through our winter.