There are times when I wish I knew everything chemically going on in my body at certain times. What exactly is happening when I am angry, the hormones released, when they stop, and how to know if they will be released into my bloodstream again. And the same is true for happiness- what physiologically happens within me when I am happy and is there a way to always feel like this?
I find that there are numerous things that can put me in a good mood. Happiness has so many roots. We all have routines, rituals, and habits that pump these feel good hormones into our bloodstream to achieve happiness. When we find ourselves stuck in a rut or in need of a mood-booster, there are several things we can do that will spark the production of a certain happiness hormone. There are four specific happiness hormones that are each targeted to be released when we engage in certain actions.
First, there is dopamine. Dopamine is both a neurotransmitter and hormone that plays a crucial role in our brain’s reward system. Our brains are chemically influenced when we are motivated to do something. After we achieve something, no matter how big or small, we get a rush of dopamine. Whether it’s sticking to a healthy routine or just check something off your to-do list, dopamine is released. This motivation molecule creates a temporary feeling of euphoria. Things we can do to increase our dopamine levels include working out or compartmentalizing a large task into smaller, more attainable ones. In addition, doing little things throughout the day that you know will boost your mood will increase these levels, such as, listening to your favorite song or diving into a book, even for just a few pages. Both of these leave us feeling accomplished and once this productive, motivated mindset is triggered by the release of dopamine in our blood, a good mood is guaranteed to follow.
Secondly, serotonin. This hormone regulates sleep, appetite, and mood. Serotonin plays an important role in bettering one’s mental health. Thanks to SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), serotonin can be prescribed to those with mental disorders and this has been known to decrease suicide rates. There are ways to naturally increase these levels which promote a healthier mind and body in so many different aspects. A majority of serotonin is produced in the gut, and there is no better way to produce this hormone by properly fueling ourselves. Eating foods rich in nutrients, fiber, and protein, spikes the circulation of serotonin throughout the entire body. Notice how when we eat healthier, we also mentally feel healthier; this can be attributed to the serotonin released. It is almost like our body is thanking us for properly fueling it. More importantly, since this hormone plays such a crucial role in our happiness, a lack of it also leads to us being unhappy.
Thirdly, we have oxytocin. This can often be referred to as the “love-hormone”, for oxytocin is apparent in friendships and relationships of all sorts. Having high levels of the love hormone can contribute to having trust in a relationship and empathy and is expressed with physical affection. It is safe to say that during the year 2020, we lacked oxytocin the most without having our family and friends close by to hug. It was found that 16.2 million U.S. American adult supper from depressive episodes and this is even more prominent with COVID here. Having a connection with others and making it your goal to show affection towards them is not only good for them, but also benefits you. Moreso, being surrounded by friends laughing and smiling is an automatic mood-booster. By fulfilling the needs to those around you and expressing your appreciation for them also fulfills your happiness and causes an increase in oxytocin.
And lastly, endorphins. Endorphins alter the perception we have of pain and act as sedatives. They are produced in the spinal cord, a main component of the nervous system and when we are prone to feeling pain, they are easily created and distributed to the rest of our body. Endorphins are commonly associated with working out. When running, lifting, cycling, or doing exercise of some form, endorphins are one of the many hormones released that create that feeling of a “runner’s high”. These hormones are responsible for making us feel so good after breaking a sweat. They also enhance our immune response and promote overall well-being.
So what can we take away from all of this? When researching any of these happy hormones, there are a few key things to note, one of them being that they all can be triggered by taking proper care of yourself in all aspects of your life. Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins all tend to overlap when it comes to finding what activities triggers their release. Eating healthy foods high in nutrients, working out, being organized and accomplishing tasks on your “To-Do” list, socializing with our loved ones and treating yourself are all important to trigger the release of these hormones. Normalize taking care of yourself in any way to truly spark the release of these important chemicals- whether that be indulging in a glass of wine after a long day to treat yourself or scheduling a workout class in the middle of a busy week, these hormones play a vital role in encouraging overall well-being. Although these four molecules alter slightly in their main function, combined, they help cure depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.