Happiness can be defined as a state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from satisfaction to intense joy.
Hormones and neurotransmitters are molecules that act as chemical messengers.
The main difference between the two is that hormones are released by the endocrine system as chemical impulses, while neurotransmitters are released by the central nervous system as electrical impulses.
The two systems work together so the line between the two becomes blurry, some molecules even act like both (oxytocin, for example).
The feeling of happiness is related to the release of chemical factors in the brain called neurotransmitters.
The hormones of happiness
Human hormones count about 50, while known neurotransmitters have been estimated at around 100. Some of the main ones associated with feelings of happiness are:
Other influencing factors are:
- Adrenaline and cortisol.
Researchers also agree that many other factors go into happiness, such as financial stability and relationships with others, to name just a few.
It is important to remember that while the effects of increasing happiness hormones and neurotransmitters are being investigated by professionals, no single neurochemical is a quick fix for happiness as they act in unison with each other.
Also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), serotonin is a complex neurotransmitter, you might think that serotonin simply generates feelings of confidence and self-worth.
For example, serotonin has been shown to be at higher levels when you feel important and like to be part of a group. In contrast, feelings of loneliness and depression are often associated with low serotonin levels.
You may recognize the name of serotonin reuptake inhibitors (or SSRIs), a popular type of medication for depression, anxiety, panic disorder, OCD, PTSD, and eating disorders.
While an advancement in mental health medicine, depression has been associated with several potential causes, not just low serotonin levels.
Still, even if the key to a sunny outlook isn’t simply more of the neurotransmitter, research seems to indicate that in order to feel happier, it’s good to give it a try and avoid getting too low.
Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to give yourself a boost, from time to time.
The increased activity of serotonin allows people to put themselves in situations that strengthen self-esteem and increase self-esteem and a sense of belonging; In turn, this increases your serotonin more.
To get this positive serotonin feedback loop, challenge yourself as much as you can to activities that reinforce your sense of self-worth, purpose, and belonging.
For example, try volunteering or getting involved in a cause you believe in or joining a sports team.
How to increase your serotonin levels
- Studies have shown that athletes have higher levels of serotonin, and exercise, such as biking or running, has been shown to increase serotonin, along with some sun or a well-deserved massage.
- Another way to improve your serotonin is to reflect on what you have in your life, for example experiences, people, and things that make you feel grateful, loved, and important. Your brain will produce serotonin regardless of whether a situation is imagined or remembered as a memory.
- Focusing on the positive, although it may not solve your problems, can help you feel better.
- Some ways to do this include taking the time to make positive affirmations, reflecting or even journaling about things that you are grateful for, a happy memory – even looking back through old photos of a big night will make you smile.
- Get involved in situations that reinforce your sense of self-worth, purpose, and belonging.
- For example, join a sports team, volunteer, or fight for a cause you believe in.
- Get some exercise, like riding a bike or going for a run.
- Sit in the sun: When the skin absorbs UV rays, it helps produce serotonin.
- Get a massage, you deserve it.
- Reflect on happy moments, memories, affirmations of practice, or focus on what you are grateful for.
Like serotonin, dopamine is a neurotransmitter. Often painted as the neurochemical most strongly associated with happiness, it might be more accurate to say that dopamine is responsible for reward-driven behavior and pleasure-seeking activities.
You get a rush of dopamine when you are proud of yourself when you eat comfort foods on payday and, of course, when you win.
Some studies indicate that those with more outgoing and extroverted personality types may have higher levels of dopamine than their introverted counterparts, and it could be one of the main forces behind goal achievement, as procrastination and self-doubt have been linked. with low levels of dopamine.
As with serotonin, the success of this neurotransmitter in regulating our emotions depends on a delicate balance.
That is, if too few dopamine molecules are released, Parkinson’s disease can develop (by the way, dopamine levels also play an important role in motor reactions), defined by a slow loss of motor skills and disorders of the state of mind. mood and sleep.
On the other hand, too high a level of dopamine can lead to symptoms such as mania, hallucinations, and it also seems to increase impulsive behavior.
How to increase your dopamine levels
While many highly addictive substances act on the dopamine system, by feeling successful (however you define it), you can increase your dopamine activity. For example, set a goal and achieve it.
For the gifted, this can sound stressful, so there are healthy ways to do it.
- You can divide a large goal into several smaller ones and pause to acknowledge each success. Then you can try setting a new (realistic) goal while you are still working on your current goal.
- In short, more dopamine rewards generate more motivation to seek more dopamine, so without exaggeration, they nurture that feedback loop.
- Also, listen to music. Listen to music that makes you feel good, music that moves you, music that gives you chills. One study looked at dopamine levels when participants listened to music that gave them these musical chills and concluded that when it did, dopamine transmission was higher.
- Yet another study that exercise can also increase dopamine, as can tangible rewards, such as food or money.
- So, find that physical activity that motivates you to exercise regularly, try to save money (having money at the end of the month is your reward), and learn how to cook delicious and healthy food.
Oxytocin is a peptide hormone (one whose molecules are peptides or proteins) composed of nine amino acids, released by the pituitary gland, which especially controls uterine spasms and the stimulation of breastfeeding.
It is active during childbirth and physical contact, and has been found to cause behavioral and physiological effects “such as maternal, sexual and social behaviors.” In other words, it facilitates social interaction and (for the most part) is associated with positive social behavior.
Due to the significant correlation between social bonding and life satisfaction, then, in fact, oxytocin levels could lead to a happier life.
Because oxytocin levels increase with breast and infant breastfeeding, cuddling, sexual intercourse, orgasm, and general skin-to-skin contact, it is often referred to as the “cuddle hormone” or the “bonding hormone.” ».
In fact, some studies have shown that an increase in oxytocin also increases confidence.
In extremely experimental studies for oxytocin as a potential treatment for autism, supplementation of neurochemicals appears to improve emotional recognition (important as autistic individuals often have difficulty recognizing human emotions).
One study found that oxytocin absorption increased feelings of envy and schadenfreude (“pleasure derived from someone else’s misfortune”), while another suggested that while it increased feelings of closeness in one’s clique, in some individuals it increased mistrust of strangers.
Be that as it may, although oxytocin may not be solely responsible for positive human bonding, it still plays an important role in how we interact with others. It is released during moments of shared intimacy, be it family, platonic, romantic, or sexual.
How to increase your oxytocin levels
- You can participate in group activities (and if they are physical, even better).
- Make sure you take the time to hug your loved ones.
- Get a dog; in fact, if you own a dog, chances are your oxytocin levels (and yours, or hers) are the last thing you need to worry about.
- Studies have shown that not only does petting and spending time with your dog raise oxytocin levels in both of you, but simply looking at each other raises oxytocin levels.
Other neurochemicals of happiness
The name translates to “self-produced morphine” for a reason: it is widely known for its analgesic (pain relieving) properties. This neurotransmitter is present in large amounts during high intensity cardio exercise, strength training, sexual intercourse, orgasm, and the most strenuous physical exertion.
Exercise will increase your endorphins, as will acupuncture and laughter (even the anticipation of laughter will raise your endorphin levels).
GABA is an inhibitory molecule that slows the firing of neurons: in short, it calms you down. You can increase GABA by doing meditative activities, such as gardening, knitting, coloring, meditation, and especially yoga.
Adrenaline (or epinephrine) and cortisol
A hormone / neurotransmitter and a glucocorticoid, respectively, these two are released from the adrenal glands – they regulate stress (think of an adrenaline rush).
As more studies are needed, it appears that subjects with lower salivary cortisol and urinary adrenaline levels report higher levels of happiness; While the results may be correlated and not causative, it is never a bad idea to try to reduce your stress levels.
Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland as most commonly associated with regulatory sleep. However, it has also been shown to affect our general well-being and our feelings of happiness (sleep patterns are often disrupted as a symptom of a major mood disorder).
To keep your melatonin balanced, get a good night’s sleep and be sure to turn off your electronic devices before doing so.
Like dopamine, low levels of norepinephrine (also called norepinephrine) have been linked to depression , while subsequent research indicates that selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor antidepressants “induce positive emotional perceptual bias in healthy subjects.”
There are many ways to increase your norepinephrine levels, for example by taking a cold shower or a quick nap.
Happiness hormones and neurotransmitters are not as simple as we sometimes wish they were. A neurochemist is not responsible for a single function, and a happier life is not as simple as raising each level as high as we can; Like most things in life, it depends on a delicate balance.
The good news is that the more you take care of yourself, the better your balance will be and the happier you will feel.