Wanna be Happy at will? Wanna have happiness at your fingertips? Wanna control happy hormones in yourself and others? Read on.
We as humans experience that our desires govern our life. We live in a state of “wanting” something. Be it a good career, a loving life partner, a warm relationship, a huge bungalow, a royal car, good wealth and health, etc. And there is no end to the list. But why is that so? What do we want? What is the ultimate goal of every human being? The simple answer is: HAPPINESS!
A survey once found out that 80% of people wanted to become rich or get famous to be happy. And the impression that they carry is such that they need to constantly push themselves to achieve their goals to have a good life. But actually they don’t find happiness in the process and “miss” life. What if they learn to see the entire life as the sum total of instances and experiences? That will surely change their perception of life and happiness. But then the question is what is happiness and how to bring it under our control?
The same question must have popped up in a psychiatrist named Robert Waldinger’s head when he chose to conduct perhaps the longest and the most extensive research in human history, i.e., study on human life AKA the Harvard Study of Adult Development. This professor of Harvard Medical School is monitoring the study that has tracked the lives of 724 men for over 80 years.
Since 1938, they have tracked the lives of two groups of men. The first group involved the sophomores of Harvard College. They all finished college during World War II, then went off to serve in the war. The second group was a group of boys from Boston’s poorest community; they were chosen because they belonged to some of the most troubled and disadvantaged families in Boston. They lived in tenements without many basic facilities like hot and cold running water.
The project involved studying the journey of subjects from their teenage years into their old age and to know what keeps people happy and healthy through yearly questionnaires regarding their work, their relationships, their health, etc.
They began by interviewing these teenagers along with their parents. They were given medical exams. When these teenagers grew up into adults, they chose to be different professionals from factory workers, lawyers, bricklayers to doctors. Some developed alcoholism and some developed schizophrenia. Some became very successful and some lost their success and failed miserably.
Sometimes studies like this may fall apart within a decade due to various reasons, like people may drop out or die, the funding of the research may fall short, or the researchers get distracted. But this rare study survived all odds. Several generations of researchers were consistent in conducting this, and took it further. A few of the subjects are still alive and participating in the study even at the age of 90. Now they are studying more than 2000 children of the men who participated in the study.
So what was the conclusion from this 75-year study? Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. And there is a scientific reason behind that. Having the people whom you love around you, your body generates all those happy hormones, neurotransmitters, chemicals that can help you to lead a happy and contented life. So technically, our happiness is in our own hands. Anatomically, indeed in our own body.
Hormones act as messengers for our body that regulate our physical functioning like heart rate and digestion, our emotional well-being, mood, and feelings. Our thoughts, emotions, activities, conducts, diet, gut microbes, exercise regime, environment, relationships, and the people we surround ourselves with, all these things influence the hormones in our body. Some hormones help one to feel joy, experience pleasure, give relief from pain, boost mood, and promote general well-being. They alleviate anxiety and prevent depressive symptoms. These are called happy hormones. These feel-good hormones are dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphin. Let’s have a brief look at them all.
- Serotonin:- The mood stabilizer
Our gut bacteria stimulate the cells which are responsible for serotonin production. This happy hormone (and neurotransmitter) helps regulate your mood as well as your sleep, appetite, digestion, learning ability, and memory. Most rhythmic activities generate this hormone.
The activities which increase serotonin in the body are :
- Walking in nature
- Endorphin:- The Painkiller And The Runners Hormone
Your body produces endorphins in response to stress or discomfort. Once released, it binds to opioid receptors (that are the body’s natural morphine). Thus, it inhibits the transmission of pain signals in the central nervous system. So endorphin is your body’s natural pain reliever.
Endorphin induces euphoria. A big rush of endorphin is the cause behind the occurrence of the famous “Runner’s high”. That is the reason why people get hooked on exercise even when it requires physical efforts and causes post-exercise DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness).
Any reward-producing activity like eating, working out can increase the level of endorphin. Now endorphin and dopamine are interconnected. When endorphin binds to receptors of the central nervous system, dopamine (the pleasure hormone) is released.
The activities which increase endorphin in the body are.
- Watching a comedy movie
- Eating a dark chocolate
- Exercising especially running
- Reading or listening to a joke
- Enjoying delicious dishes
- Dopamine:- The motivational roleplayer in the brain’s reward system
Dopamine is a “feel-good” hormone and neurotransmitter that makes you happy. It keeps you alive and alert. That’s an important part of your brain’s “reward system” that gives you pleasurable sensations and keeps you coming back for more.
Dopamine is associated with achieving, completing a task, learning, memory, motor system function, and more. Your gut produces more than 50% of your dopamine.
The activities which increase dopamine in the body are:
- When you complete a task
- Self-care activities
- Enjoying a delicious meal
- Celebrating little wins
- Physical and mental pleasure
- Entertaining feel-good thoughts
- Oxytocin:- The love hormone
Oxytocin is a “love/cuddle hormone,” that helps promote trust, empathy, bonding, and trust in relationships. It is highly active during childbirth because it stimulates contractions and is essential for breastfeeding, and strong parent-child bonding.
Physical affection like kissing, cuddling, and an act of lovemaking can increase the level of oxytocin. It’s a neurotransmitter that regulates stress responses and calms the nervous system. It’s produced in response to touch and the right kind of eye contact.
The activities which increase oxytocin in the body are:
- Playing with a baby
- Playing with a dog
- Holding hands
- Cuddling with a loved one
- Paying a compliment
- Carrying out group activities with friends and family
The following are some lifestyle modification ideas that you can add to your schedule to increase the production of happy hormones.
- Let The Sun And Vitamin D Be Your True Doctor
Sunbathing is known to increase the production of serotonin in the body. Early morning sunlight in your verandah, nearby park, or gallery can be helpful to you to get enough yet safe sunlight required for your body.
- Work That Body Out
A regular fitness regimen is important to relieve anxiety, improve mood, and combat depression. Good exercise promotes the secretion of happy hormones in our bodies.
- Laugh Your Lungs Out
Some comedy series, funny videos, hilarious novels can do wonders to provide you with your daily dose of the best medicine, i.e, laughter. Laughter removes or reduces sadness and pain.
- Cook And Cuddle With Your Loved One
The comfort you get from eating something delicious can trigger the release of dopamine and endorphin. Sharing the meal with your loved ones, and bonding over meal preparation help to boost oxytocin levels. Remember those community feasts? Cooking together and eating together!
Different types of food can trigger the release of different hormones. For example, spicy foods help with endorphin release. Yogurt, beans, eggs, meats with low-fat content, and almonds are responsible for dopamine release. Foods that are high in tryptophan tend to increase serotonin levels. And lastly, foods containing probiotics, such as yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut, can influence the release of all happy hormones
- Sup! Supplements
You can support your mental wellbeing by taking care of your gut bacteria and your diet. There’s a second “brain” in our gut; the enteric nervous system that is to be credited for our longevity.
A balanced whole-food diet promotes mental as well as physical health. Contrary to that, people who eat an unhealthy diet consisting of refined carbohydrates, fast food, and animal products tend to have less beneficial bacteria.
One can add foods containing tryptophan; the essential amino acid the body uses to produce serotonin, to their diet. Chickpeas, wheat, oats, milk, cheese, and potatoes are such a few examples.
Foods with tyrosine are linked to dopamine production. Green tea and green tea extract help in producing dopamine and serotonin.
People with certain health conditions should always consult a physician before adding any supplements as they interfere with some medication.
- Music To The Rescue
Listening to instrumental music increase dopamine production in your brain. But listening to any music you enjoy puts you in a good mood. And such a positive change in your mood increases serotonin production.
When a musician produces a piece of good music or performs music by dancing, singing, or drumming, he experiences an endorphin release.
- Meditate For The Mind That Matters
Along with the many benefits of meditation, one of the major benefits is that it helps to increase the level of dopamine and endorphin in our brain by creating new neural pathways and releasing the old that doesn’t serve us.
- Plan A Rosy Evening Filled With Romance
The ‘Love Hormone” oxytocin is released even by simply being attracted to someone. Spending time with someone you care about helps increase oxytocin production. Dancing with your partner releases the endorphine in you. A word of caution: Handle this suggestion with care! 😉
- Pat Your Pet
Any dog lover can vouch for the happiness he gets when he cuddles or plays with his dog. This bonding increases the oxytocin level in both of them.
- Sleep Tight so Good can Be Your Night.
7 to 9 hours of sleep each night helps restoring the balance of hormones in your body. Without enough sleep, dompamine levels are disturbed. The majority of the healing including the balance in your hormones happens during sleep. Respect sleep!
- Stress! Stay Away
This one is a complete no-brainer. Living with regular stress and dealing with highly stressful life events can cause drops in dopamine and serotonin production. Cultivating a hobby is a good way to keep the stress at bay.
- Keep Your Massage Mode On
A good massage can boost all 4 of your happy hormones. You can choose a licensed therapist for getting a massage.
For a healthy body, you need a healthy mind matters. It is indeed the issue of mind over matter! So keep your mind occupied with the activities mentioned above, and have happiness at your fingertips.
Dr Krushika Shah