Hormones and neurotransmitters are molecules that act as chemical messengers. The main difference between the two is that hormones are released by the endocrine system as chemical impulses, while neurotransmitters are released by the central nervous system as electrical impulses. The two systems work together, so the line between the two becomes blurred, some molecules even acting as both (oxytocin, for example).
Researchers also agree that many other factors go into happiness, such as economic stability and relationships to others, to name just a few. It's important to remember then that while the effects of increasing happiness hormones and neurotransmitters are being researched by professionals, no neurochemical alone is a quick fix for happiness, as they act in lockstep with each other.
You may recognize the name from Serotonin-Specific Reuptake Inhibitors (or SSRIs), a popular type of medication taken against depression, anxiety, panic disorder, OCD, PTSD, and eating disorders. While a breakthrough in mental health medicine, depression has been associated with various potential causes - not only low levels of serotonin. Still, even if the key to a sunny outlook isn't simply just more of the neurotransmitter, research seems to indicate that to feel happier, it's good to try and avoid it dipping too low.
Luckily, there's a wide variety of ways to give yourself a boost, now and then.Higher serotonin activity allows people to put themselves in situations that will bolster self-esteem and increase one’s self-worth and sense of belonging; in turn, this ups your serotonin more. To get this serotonin positive feedback loop going, challenge yourself as much as you can to accomplish activities that will reinforce your sense of self-worth, purpose, and belonging. For example, try volunteering (which has also shown to strengthen social ties and to make you even happier!), becoming involved in a cause you believe in or joining a sports team.
Another way to up your serotonin is by reflecting on what you have in your life, for example, experiences, people, and things that make you feel grateful, loved, and important. Your brain will produce serotonin regardless of whether a situation is imagined or is recalled as a memory.Focusing on the positive - while it may not solve your problems - may help you feel better. Some ways to do this include taking the time to do positive affirmations, reflect, or even write a journal about things that you are grateful for, a happy memory - even looking back through old pictures of a great night out will make you smile and get that serotonin going.
Some studies indicate that those with more extroverted and outgoing personality types may have higher levels of dopamine than their introverted counterparts, and it could be one of the main driving forces behind pursuing goals, as procrastination and self-doubt have been linked to low levels of dopamine. As with serotonin, this neurotransmitter's success in regulating our emotions hangs in a delicate balance: if too few dopamine molecules are released, Parkinson’s disease may develop (incidentally, dopamine levels also play a large part in motor reactions), defined by a slow loss of motor skills and mood and sleep disorders. On the other hand, too high of a dopamine level can lead to symptoms like mania, hallucinations, and it also appears to increase impulsive behaviour.
While many highly addictive substances act on the dopamine system, by feeling success (however you may define it), you can increase your dopamine activity. For example, set a goal and achieve it.For overachievers, this may sound stressful, so there are healthy ways to do it. For example,
you can break down one big goal into several smaller ones, and pause to acknowledge each success. Then, you can try to set a new (realistic) goal while you're still working on your current objective. In short, more dopamine rewards beget more motivation to seek more dopamine, so, without going overboard, nurture that feedback loop.
Also, listen to music. Listen to music that makes you feel good, music that moves you, music that gives you chills. One study analysed levels of dopamine when participants listened to music that gave them these musical frissons and concluded that, when it did, dopamine transmission was higher.
"[...] music is inextricably linked with our deepest reward systems."Yet another study that exercise may also increase dopamine, as do tangible rewards, like food or money. So, find that one physical activity that motivates you to exercise regularly, try saving money (having money at the end of the month is its reward), and learning how to cook food that's delicious and healthy.
Due to the significant correlation between social bonding and life satisfaction, then indeed Oxytocin levels could lead to a happier life.Because oxytocin levels go up with breastfeeding between mother and child, hugging, intercourse, orgasm, and just general skin-to-skin contact, it's often referred to as the "hug hormone" or the "bonding hormone." Indeed, some studies have shown that an increase in oxytocin also increases trust. In extremely experimental studies for oxytocin as a potential treatment for autism, supplementing the neurochemical seem to improve emotional recognition (important since autistic individuals often have difficulties recognising human emotion). However, oxytocin has more complicated effects than bonding and trust. According to Ed Yong on Slate, it "fosters trust and generosity in some situations, but envy and bias in others.” One study found that oxytocin uptake increased feelings of envy and schadenfreude ("pleasure derived by someone from another person's misfortune”), while another suggested that while it increased a sense of closeness in one’s clique, in some individuals, it increased mistrust in strangers. In other words, the trust and bonding that it offers may only extend to those that you trust and feel open to bonding with, to begin with (and there may be deep seated evolutionary origins in this reaction).
Be that as it may, while oxytocin may not be solely responsible for positive human bonding, it still plays a large part in how we interact with others. It is released during moments of shared intimacy - be it familial, platonic, romantic, or sexual.
The good news is that the more you take care of yourself, the better the balance will be, and the happier you will feel.After all, "our brain has evolved to make things that are necessary for our survival feel good," as one Guinness World Record holder speculated:
Article picture: colourbox.com
Rae Bathgate is an American journalist based in Barcelona, where she enjoys sunlight, yoga, and bookbinding.
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