Happiness is not a given. It is a conscious decision we make every morning when we open our eyes to a brand new day. It’s a frame of mind, a reference point, and “happy” makes us feel good. This is due to “happy hormones.” Now,now, before you start thinking to yourself this chick is a nutter, let me explain.
What are “happy hormones?” These are scientifically proven hormones released by your body to make you feel and keep you feeling happy. Generally speaking, these happy hormones are endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. Technically, some of these are neurotransmitters, but since I’m not a scientist, and most likely neither are you, let’s skip that fact for now. Let’s look at some of these – a mini science lesson from the most non-scientific person you’ll ever have the pleasure of knowing.
OK. Endorphins. We’ve all heard of these. All the healthy bloggers and magazines tell us about endorphins. They’re like instant miracle happiness – but, you have to work a little for that happy feeling. Bet you didn’t know that the word endorphin is a shortened term for “endogenous (meaning containing) morphine. Yup, we can sedate ourselves and float through life in a happy bubble. Historically, endorphins were the triggers that kept our troglodyte ancestors running even if they were in terrible pain, to escape from predators. The predecessor to treadmills and anaerobic exercise. So now armed with this information, to be happy and fit, we need to push on when we are exercising, because the endorphins will help us go the extra mile, and keep us from feeling those painful blisters and muscle strains until we are satisfied that we have worked out. We feel happy because we did something good for our bodies. Incidentally, if you’re lazy, eating spicy foods trigger endorphins as well. Proof positive, my hubby is happiest when consuming hot cherry peppers, spicy fish balls and of course (my admitted fave candy as well) Atomic red Hot Fireballs.
Moving along in Happy Science 101 – Serotonin. This is our social hormone. Yes, Chatty Patty’s of the world- this is the mood raising, agreeable happy hormone that makes us want to play nicely with others. A lack of serotonin means we are irritable and touchy and most likely depressed. So without seeing the local quack for some meds, how do we keep our serotonin levels up and our moods happy?
First and foremost- and this is my biggie- sunlight. People who live in sunny places or who spend a lot of time outdoors are generally happy people. Sunlight gives us Vitamin D, which in turn helps produce serotonin. So next time you’re feeling blue, get out there- take a walk, drive to the park or simply look out the window. Hopefully it wont be rainy.
Second- choose to be positive. Thinking happy thoughts, whether about past events or the present, cause our bodies to produce more of this happy hormone. It’s about being grateful.Your life is about the present- between now and the next breath you take – so make it count. Live each moment in full; be kind, peaceful – maybe meditate, and leave behind the fear and regret as best you can. They only bring you down, and that defeats the purpose of living a happy life.
Next, and this is my favorite- carbs carbs carbs. Carbohydrates contain something called tryptophan. Now I am not sure what this is, remember – I’m not a science geek, but foods like corn and milk have this amino acid (am I impressing you?) and it converts to serotonin. So grab some chips and salsa and be happy!
On to dopamine. I know we have all heard about this one…it rings a bell somewhere in the back of my mind. Dopamine is the pleasure hormone. It releases that pleasurable feeling to our bodies when we make ourselves a purposeful life. Setting goals and actually achieving them – having something to strive for increases dopamine production in the factory we call our body.Exercise fits into this equation nicely. After all, it is a long term goal, whether for weight loss or the health benefits. Sacrifice some time to work out and feel happy. Yes, I know, I said that already, but you see it’s a bonus. Two endorphins for the price of one- double happiness! Besides, all of the sacrifices you make today will pay off huge dividends in your future. (Now I sound like I live with a financial planning person – and I do!) Working to achieve any goal or dream takes a commitment, When you reach that goal, the lost weight, success in your career, the end of the hike up the rocky mountain – you are happy!
I would be remiss if I didn’t add in that happiness is feeling good about yourself without needing anyone else’s approval. Once you feel worthwhile in your own right, you can confidently look at others and feel true happiness. Which brings me to that last endorphin, oxytocin. Sounds like a laundry detergent to me, but here’s what I learned about it.
This is the love hormone- the give me a big fat bear hug so I feel good loving hormone. Oxytocin helps to provide feelings of trust, companionship and love. It’s one of the reasons we are happy in relationships.So here’s how to boost your happy and feel the love. Physical contact. I know – but it’s true. Huggy people are happy people. One of my favorite people on the planet is a hugger and she admits it. And she is pretty cheerful even when life throws crates of lemons at her. So if you need a happy boost- reach out and hug someone- a friend, your kid (even if they’re a stubborn sulky teenager) or your pet. Unless it’s a fish or a snake. That could be tricky.
Of course you could be one of those people who like to be touched. If you’re that type of sensory person, get a massage. Shiatsu, Swedish or a foot massage at one of those new Tao parlors springing up all over the place; massages are not just for those with too much time on their hands. Massage creates a physical relaxation of muscles, and this in turn makes us feel emotionally calm and well. That prolonged feeling of well being from the physical motion of muscle movement releases oxytocin and makes you feel happy.
Bottom line: Happiness is doable for all of us. Let’s be grateful for all the happy hormones nature has implanted in our bodies – our happiness temples so to speak. Don’t get me wrong – not everyone can be happy all the time, but it’s comforting to know that as humans we are geared towards happy feelings and general happiness and contentment.
Wow. I feel like I just taught a class in happiness survival. What makes you happy? Coffee, art, writing? Family, friends, the gym? Feel free to post a comment. I promise to reward you with a feel good, squishy virtual hug and a smiley face.