For a minute, just close your eyes and think about what makes you happy. We often think about people in our lives, circumstances or possessions. In reality, however, happiness is largely a chemical experience.
For example, did you know that the warmth you feel from a hug is caused by a different chemical sensation than the high you feel after a long bike ride?
Your brain holds four main neurotransmitters that are responsible for helping you feel happy. These neurotransmitters — known as dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin — play different roles in affecting your mood.
This is fantastic news because it means we are not in the passenger seat, but we can intentionally trigger these neurotransmitters. Even when the people in our lives, circumstances or factors out of our control aren’t to our liking, there are simple ways to hack our happy brain chemicals and get in a better mood.
Dopamine plays a significant role in the reward system that controls motivation, desire and cravings. Dopamine motivates you to start a new habit, such as drinking eight glasses of water every day.
It gives you a surge of reinforcing pleasure when you’ve worked extra hard to reach a goal. So, setting realistic goals and meeting them is one way to ensure a continuous flow of dopamine. Listening to music is another relaxing way to trigger dopamine.
Exposure to substances increasing dopamine can become addictive to some people. Studies have shown that the reinforcing effects of drugs of abuse and dopamine are connected, however long-term drug use is associated with decreased dopamine function.
Serotonin flows when you feel proud, have a sense of accomplishment or receive recognition from others. This could be after you have achieved a promotion at work, received a diploma, or experienced a sense of achievement, such as purchasing a home in a desirable neighborhood.
According to my colleague Joyce Hollman, this powerful chemical messenger can also act as a natural appetite suppressant.
In addition, serotonin regulates our sleep-wake cycle, cognition and concentration, body temperature and blood clotting.
According to my colleague Jenny Smiechowski, you can supercharge your serotonin production by eating certain foods, exercising, and doing things that bring you joy. Also, if you need a serotonin boost during a stressful day, focus on past achievements and victories.
I’m sure you’ve heard about runners experiencing a “runner’s high” after a long run. That feeling comes from the release of endorphins which help us push our bodies beyond their comfort levels. Endorphins are released in response to pain, helping to alleviate anxiety and depression.
To activate your endorphins just find something funny to have a deep belly laugh about! Your stomach contractions during laughter cause just enough muscle discomfort to release these feel-good endorphins, which then surge through your body.
The brain releases oxytocin during physical contact with others, such as hugging. It’s also the feeling behind love, trust and friendship. It boosts the immune system, creates strong bonds and enhances social relationships. A simple way to activate oxytocin is to hug someone or give someone a gift.
Nutrition that boosts your well-being
- Vitamin C – Canadian researchers found that patients given vitamin C supplements for seven to 10 days experienced a rapid and clinically significant mood improvement. The study was published in the journal Nutrition.
- Vitamin D converts tryptophan to serotonin.
- The Mediterranean diet is the ultimate diet for stress management and serotonin production.
- Tea is like yoga in a cup—helping to calm and lessen depression.
- Fish oil supplements support serotonin.
- Ginkgo biloba reduces oxidative stress and increases dopamine secretion.
- Aromatherapy – Lavender and vanilla have been linked with the production of endorphins.
- Dark chocolate and spicy foods lead the brain to release endorphins.
- Phosphatidylserine (PS), a nutrient found in high concentrations in the brain blunts the effects of stress by decreasing blood levels of the stress hormones adrenocorticotropin, cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine.
12 Dopamine supplements to boost your mood — Healthline
4 brain chemicals that make you happy — happyfeed