Chemistry of Happiness- Part 1
What makes you giddy? Is it getting to meet a good friend for lunch, hearing your favorite song on the radio or simply finding a perfectly ripe tomato at the grocery store? What is going on inside your body when you feel happy? Feeling happy not only lifts your mood, but it also boosts your immune system, fights stress and promotes longevity!
When we are hit with the giggle fits or something puts a smile on our face, our brain starts releasing chemicals into our bloodstream a.k.a. happy hormones. There is a simple acronym to remember these- D.O.S.E.
- Dopamine– The chemical that relates to excited anticipation
- Oxytocin– Helps us feel empathy and connection with others
- Serotonin– Regulates mood*
- Endorphins– The body’s natural pain killers
*Fun Fact- 80% or more of Serotonin is made in the gut…hangry anyone??
These chemicals, when released, impact breath, metabolism, digestion, blood pressure, reduces stress hormones plus much more. You might be asking yourself, how can I stimulate the release of all this amazingness?? We will discuss this in more detail in part 2 of Chemistry of Happiness: 5 Ways to Increase Joy! Here is a deeper look into each of these hormones.
Dopamine is responsible for the pleasure or reward center in our body. Imagine we were still living in the wild and we came upon a ripe delicious blueberry bush. Our body would release a surge of dopamine to help us remember where this bush was so we could find it again. It is also connected to the feelings of anticipation.
Oxytocin is considered to be the “love hormone”. Often times, it is associated with birth and nursing moms with infants. It is released during physical contact but can also be released when bonding with a loved one, feeling empathy toward another, volunteering and donating. An interesting note: Oxytocin can decrease if you suppress emotions so let those tears flow if you are needing a good cry!
Serotonin is responsible for stabilizing our mood, feelings of well being and happiness. Seratonin also impacts sleep, digestion, and eating. It regulates depression and stabilizes anxiety. It sounds like a pretty important character, right? At least 80% of it is produced in our gut. No wonder what we eat impacts how we feel!
Ever heard of the “runner’s high”? Endorphins are responsible for the feeling of euphoria after exercise. When we are in pain or stressed we release them. This is why they are associated with fight or flight. Imagine you got injured while running from a saber tooth tiger. This chemical is released which helps you to push through the pain and fear to escape.
Happy Hormones – Start Your Day with a Smile
Not feeling it?? Even a fake smile will do the trick…Just the physical act of smiling, even if it is not sincere, triggers the body to release dopamine, lowers your heart rate and reduces stress. I was recently listening to the book “Stoned” by Aja Raden. The book is about gems and the effects they had on shaping history because of the desire we humans have to own highly valued sparkly things.
In the book, she talks about research that showed the difference between thinking about purchasing something we desire versus actually purchasing the item. The chemical process in the body was virtually the same! Basically, if you think about buying that adorable dress you’ve been eyeing, your body responds the same as if you actually buy it. Where things change is once you’ve bought the items, we tend to go into a negative emotional tailspin of shame and guilt- buyer’s remorse. These emotions don’t happen if you just think about buying the dress. Sidenote: They also researched the effects of spending money on an experience versus a tangible item and found the opposite to be true. If you spend money on experience and create great memories, each time you think back about the experience, your body releases the same chemicals as though you were reliving the experience all over again!
Take One Simple Step: Go through your day and notice what makes your heart smile. If you find very few things that make you want to curl those lips up, make a list of your joy boosters and start to add one or two in each day! There is a great podcast called the Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin that gives great suggestions on how to build your happiness or read part two of Chemistry of Happiness: 5 Ways to Increase Joy.