Human life was designed to be a blissful experience as our bodies are primed to seek and attain pleasure and feel blissful happiness via the release of various chemicals that create happiness. But the current modern system of living along with the advance of the digital age has got people stuck to their armchairs and couches with their phones and laptops with reduced body movement and less intake of positive sensory input and more of consuming negativity. Life today is busy, and stressful schedules disrupt the neurochemicals’ balance in the body. All this has a major impact on your body, mind and emotional health. Depression and anxiety is on an all-time high with people having no clue on how to recalibrate their system and fix it to experience the natural high of life.
What are happy hormones?
Happy hormones are chemicals produced by the body, which is directly linked to experiencing joy in life. These hormones promote positive feelings, including happiness and pleasure and hence they are also known as happy hormones. The human body produces hundreds of these chemicals, and most of them are still not identified by the human race. However, we do know the most important brain molecules that control our well-being.
There are four major chemicals (neurotransmitters) in the brain that influence our happiness (DOSE): Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Endorphin.
Other hormones responsible for happiness include Estrogen, Endocannabinoids, Adrenaline and Gaba.
In this article will attempt to educate you on each happy hormone and how to get them to release naturally with simple lifestyle choices.
Even those with no knowledge of chemicals and medicine have heard of dopamine – the system which is directly affected by the most addictive drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine. It is also known as the “feel-good” hormone and is an important part of your brain’s reward system. In addition to this, dopamine is closely related to the personality of an individual. Evidence suggests that extroverts have higher dopamine levels than introverts. This is why extroverts set higher goals and are go-getters in life, while introverts take actions that are more calculated and cautiously performed. Dopamine is associated with pleasurable sensations, along with learning, memory, motor system function, and more. Since this neurotransmitter drives your brain’s reward system, it is released when you are praised at work for doing a good job or completing a project or task which in turn results in feelings of well-being.
Unhealthy ways of dopamine release include reaching out for unhealthy junk food like donuts or cupcakes, using drugs or even binge-watching Netflix or any show on TV. You can avoid these and naturally boost it by setting realistic goals and achieving them. Finishing a task or project (write that blog, draw that picture, complete a topic you wanted to study or research, or even clean up something) can help release dopamine. Even sticking to your workout schedule and achieving that can heavily increase dopamine release. Listening to music is also a fabulous way to get a hit of dopamine. So seek out pleasurable healthy activities that have a positive impact on your life to get this to naturally release in your brain.
Often called the “love hormone,” oxytocin is essential for childbirth, breastfeeding, and strong parent-child bonding. This hormone can also help promote trust, empathy, and bonding in relationships, and oxytocin levels generally increase with physical affection like kissing, cuddling, and sex. Researchers from Claremont University in California have done extensive research on its impact on women, linking oxytocin release to life satisfaction levels. It may play a greater role in women’s physiology and happiness compared to men’s. In some studies, high levels of oxytocin have been correlated with romantic attachment.
Get a boost of oxytocin by doing pleasurable things such as spending time with your family and loved ones, cuddling with your partner, your kids or even your pet(s), rather than spending time on social media. Hugging or any physical contact, especially for at least a minimum of 30 seconds is seen to release oxytocin. Being kind to others also stimulates oxytocin. In a cyber world, where we are often “alone together” on our digital devices, it is more important than ever to maintain face-to-face intimate human bonds and “tribal” connections within your community. Working out at a gym, in a group environment, or having a jogging buddy is a great way to sustain these human bonds and release oxytocin.
Serotonin affects our bodies in many ways. It helps regulate your mood as well as your sleep, appetite, digestion, learning ability, and memory. The most common link is made with the person’s confidence and sense of belonging. Therefore, if a person wishes to increase serotonin and with that their sense of purpose, they need to challenge themselves on a regular basis. Serotonin is the most targetted hormone by anti-depressants which work by increasing the brain’s serotonin levels.
The most effective and natural way to boost serotonin is by exercising daily. That’s one reason why a brisk walk does wonders for your mood. It’s also seen to be triggered by getting enough sunlight. Since serotonin is not just a brain hormone with research showing that 80% of it being released in the gut, food plays a huge role in serotonin release. Carbohydrates increase serotonin levels, which partly explains why we crave sweet, starchy foods when we are feeling down. For the best mood boost with the least negative impact, choose healthy, high-fiber sources of carbs such as dense whole-grain bread or quinoa. Also to increase serotonin, challenge yourself regularly and pursue things that reinforce a sense of purpose, meaning, and accomplishment. Being able to say “I did it!” will produce a feedback loop that will reinforce behaviors that build self-esteem, make you less insecure, and create an upward spiral of more and more serotonin.
The name Endorphin translates into “self-produced morphine.” Endorphins resemble opiates in their chemical structure and have analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. They are your body’s natural pain reliever, which your body produces in response to stress or discomfort. Endorphins are produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus during strenuous physical exertion, sexual intercourse, and orgasm. Endorphins are connected to the “feeling no pain” aspect of aerobic exercise and are produced in larger quantities during high intensity “anaerobic” cardio and strength training.
In 1999, clinical researchers reported that inserting acupuncture needles into specific body points triggers the production of endorphins. In another study, higher levels of endorphins were found in cerebrospinal fluid after patients underwent acupuncture. Acupuncture is a terrific way to stimulate the release of endorphins. Endorphin levels tend to increase when you engage in reward-producing activities, such as eating, working out, or having sex. They can also be released through aromatherapy, so infuse essential oils in a diffuser, light that agarbathi (incense stick), use scented soaps and moisturizer, to feel your body naturally release endorphins. Laughter also releases endorphins. Interestingly spicy food was also found to release these hormones.
#5.Estrogen and Progesterone
Estrogen is a hormone which helps form serotonin and protects you from irritability and anxiety, keeping your mood steady. Estrogen decreases with menopause, and lifestyle factors such as smoking and extreme exercise can also lower it. The estrogen/progesterone imbalance in perimenopause can also negatively affect mood.
Since stress hormones, such as cortisol, interfere with the secretion, stress management is the best way to balance them. Increase estrogen with stress-relieving activities such as yoga, meditation, taking a hot bath or whatever works for you as a stress buster. Keep progesterone at optimum levels by eating well and avoiding saturated fat and sugar, getting regular check-ups and avoiding stress.
Endocannabinoids are self-produced cannabis that work on the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors of the cannabinoid system. Anandamide (from the Sanskrit “Ananda” meaning Bliss) is the most well known endocannabinoid. Interestingly, at least 85 different cannabinoids have been isolated from the Cannabis plant. It is likely that we self-produce just as many variations of endocannabinoids, but it will take neuroscientists decades to isolate them. A study at the University of Arizona, published in April 2012, argues that endocannabinoids are, most likely, the cause for runner’s high. The study shows that both humans and dogs show significantly increased endocannabinoids following sustained running.
The study does not address the potential contribution of endorphins to runner’s high. However, in other research that has focused on the blood–brain barrier (BBB), it has been shown that endorphin molecules are too large to pass freely across the BBB, and are probably not responsible for the blissful state associated with the runner’s high. So running is the best way to release these amazing hormones.
Adrenaline, technically known as epinephrine, is a close cousin to dopamine. It plays a large role in the fight-or-flight mechanism. The release of epinephrine is exhilarating and creates a surge in energy. It causes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and works by causing less important blood vessels to constrict and increasing blood flow to larger muscles.
An “adrenaline rush” comes in times of distress or facing fearful situations. It can be triggered on demand by doing things that terrify you or being thrust into a situation that feels dangerous. You can also create an adrenaline rush by taking short rapid breathes and contracting muscles. This jolt can be healthy in small doses, especially when you need a pick me up.
A surge of adrenaline makes you feel very alive. It can be an antidote for boredom, malaise, and stagnation. Taking risks, and doing scary things that force you out of your comfort zone is key to maximizing your human potential. However, people do often act recklessly to get an adrenaline rush, so if you’re an “adrenaline junkie,” try to balance potentially harmful novelty-seeking by focusing on behaviors that will make you feel good by releasing other neurochemicals on this list.
GABA is an inhibitory molecule that slows down the firing of neurons which creates a sense of calmness. This molecule is known for its anti-anxiety properties and benzodiazepines (Such as Valium and Xanax) are sedatives that work as anti-anxiety medication by increasing GABA. These drugs have many side effects and risks of dependency but are still widely prescribed. You can increase GABA naturally by practicing yoga, meditation or “The Relaxation Response.”
A study from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found a 27 percent increase in GABA levels among yoga practitioners after a 60-minute yoga session when compared against participants who read a book for 60 minutes. The study suggests yoga might increase GABA levels naturally.
Exercise releases just about all the happy hormones: dopamine, estrogen and serotonin to name a few and eating more healthy happy food like mussels, spinach, asparagus, eggs, salmon, dark chocolate, legumes and nuts, avocado and to take a probiotic (like yogurt or kombucha) is seen to boost happy hormones.
‘’Depression is treatable and yet, so common among people. I always explain to people who base their therapy on antidepressants – depression is not just a ‘feeling of unhappy’, but an imbalance of the happiness hormones in the body. As with any hormone misbalance, we must target the source of the problem to fix the problem itself’’ – explains Bethy Karlson, a psychology writing expert at aussiewritings.com.
The sooner you become aware of the importance of the happiness hormones, the faster you will understand that an imbalance cannot be readjusted by simply taking a pill. Your primary goal to a healthy and happy life is to implement lifestyle changes in behavior that are essential for the balance in brain chemistry. Creating a good neurochemical balance that results in happiness isn’t something that comes with a step-by-step guide. So use this list of the most important happy hormones as a checklist by which you can adjust your daily habits to achieve balance.