Have you ever thought about what goes into making you happy? We think of things to make us happy, or people we like as making us happy.
Do you want to know the secret to your happiness? Spoiler alert, it isn’t getting rich
Happiness is really just a hormonal response to stimuli around us based on the different levels of chemicals or feel-good hormones being released in your brain throughout the day. Serotonin, endorphin, dopamine, and oxytocin levels each impact the way we live and how much happiness we feel.
Knowing this, we can take the time to better understand how our behavior impacts the way we feel and how to increase levels of hormones that are low.
We can pay particular attention to these four feel-good hormones to help understand and aid mental health, alleviate mood swings, reduce stress, and feel happier.
Now, let’s take a deeper look at each of these four chemicals and how you can start balancing their levels to improve your mental, physical, and emotional state.
- Endorphins – the reason why taking risks makes you happy.
Whether you’re going for a run, lifting weights at the gym, tuning in to your body in a yoga class, dancing your heart out in Zumba, or participating in another form of exercise, you’re producing endorphins.
High endorphin levels are what runner’s experience when they get a “runner’s high” and it’s often what keeps people coming back to exercise. It’s also why some people choose to take risks… the endorphins produced makes them happy.
As Elle Woods defended her client in the movie Legally Blonde, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.”
Now, what are some other ways you can produce more endorphins to increase your happiness?
- Ride a bike
- Ski or snowboard
- Hike a mountain
- Rock Climb
- Play sports
- Speak on stage
- Ride a rollercoaster
- Do something outside of your comfort zone
Endorphins are one of the most important chemicals to get. Simply adding physical exercise to your calendar will help you keep this hormone in check. Want more? Try doing something just outside of your comfort zone.
Since the rush and enjoyment with endorphins is often short lived, it’s important to make exercise part of your routine.
- Dopamine – the reason why instant gratification motivates you.
When you open a gift, get a new notification on social media from a friend, or put a new pair of shoes on your feet, dopamine is being released.
Achieving your goals releases dopamine, which is why many people feel good when they complete tasks that get them closer to reaching their goals.
Buying new material items also releases dopamine. This is often referred to as “retail therapy” and is one of the more expensive and unsustainable ways to get a dopamine fix.
So, what can you do throughout your week to balance your levels of dopamine?
- Listen to music
- Get a good night of sleep (this helps receptiveness of the dopamine)
- Get a massage
- Exercise (in addition to endorphins, exercise also help boost dopamine levels)
Since dopamine, like the other hormones, need to be replenished, it’s important to find ways to increase your levels without breaking your bank or becoming addicted to a bad habit.
- Serotonin – the reason why you feel good when helping others.
From giving change to a homeless person to organizing a local charity to give back to the community, giving to others beyond our own benefit produces serotonin.
So, when you make selfless acts, you get paid in a different currency… a chemical that will make you feel happy.
Helping a friend move, for example, brings no real benefit to you, yet it can make you feel good and give you a sense of pride for the whole day or even the whole week. It impacts you in a way that you cannot get from dopamine or endorphins.
Since Serotonin is released when we connect with people on a deep, human level, and not when we buy new things or become rich, we often see business leaders start philanthropic pursuits later in life, once they realize that money doesn’t buy happiness.
What can you start doing today to increase your levels of serotonin?
- Hold the door open for someone and say hello
- “Pay it forward” by buying a coffee for the person behind you in line
- Listen to a friend that needs to talk
- Mentor someone less privileged than you
- Volunteer at the local homeless shelter
- Raise money for a cause you care about
- Give compliments to strangers and/or friends
- Oxytocin – the reason why human touch makes you feel loved and happy.
A simple handshake from a stranger, a hug from a loved one, or a kiss from your dog when you get home from work will release oxytocin in your body.
The chemical oxytocin is released during welcomed physical contact with a person or pet. It’s one of the easiest hormones to produce, yet it’s often taken for granted.
What are some ways to increase oxytocin levels?
- Hug a loved one
- Pet an animal
- Get your back scratched
- Get a massage
- Go to the local pet rescue to play with animals
- Cuddle with an animal or loved one
In today’s world of increased social isolation, it’s crucial to remember the importance of physical touch throughout the week in our pursuit of happiness.
Remember, the secret to happiness is that you need all four chemicals to be released regularly. This is what we need in order to feel truly happy.
If we focus too much on only one source, our brain will lack the right combination to feel lasting happiness.