‘Happiness is a state of mind. It’s just according to the way you look at things’.
– Walt Disney
Everybody wants to be happy. According to Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, ‘Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence’. Many people are in the unending and tireless pursuit of happiness. They travel in different paths. They try out different methods. Some amass wealth. Some try to get to the top of the career pyramid. Many run after power and fame. Some indulge in luxurious and affluent lives. But alas! In spite of all these, they don’t feel contented and genuinely happy. They feel a vacuum inside. They become frustrated when they fail to feel the inner peace, harmony and joy even after achieving material possessions and high positions. Finally, they come to realize that no material possessions and pleasures can make them really happy. The pursuit of happiness is always in vain unless you can find it within yourself. As Marcus Aurelius pointed out; ‘Very little is needed to make a happy life. It’s all within yourself, in your way of thinking’.
Actually your master key to happiness is in your mind. It is your own way of thinking that determines your level of happiness. When you think positively, you feel happy. When your thoughts are negative, you naturally feel unhappy and distressed. A person who does not grieve for things which he has not, but rejoice for those which he has, can have sustainable happiness.
Hormones of Happiness
According to Loretta Graziano Breuning, the author of Habits of a Happy Brain; each happy chemical triggers a different good feeling’. Our brain is capable of producing hormones or neurotransmitters that play a significant role in tuning up, regulating and balancing our moods and feelings. According to modern scientific research findings, four primary brain chemicals are responsible for our happiness. By activating the production of these chemicals, we can increase our level of happiness. These happy hormones are dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins.
Four brain chemicals that make you happy
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is called the ‘feel good hormone’. It is responsible for reward driven behavior and pleasure seeking activities. When you feel proud of yourself or when you have achieved something or have become a winner you get a rush of dopamine. It motivates you towards goals. Setting realistic goals and achieving them will increase dopamine production naturally.
Studies have shown that those who maintain strong social connections and engage in social and charitable activities have a much higher level of dopamine.
Oxytocin is released from the pituitary gland and is responsible for intimacy and bonding. And for this reason it is called ‘love hormone’. Its production is high during child birth and physical contact. When you hug a child or a friend or mate you get a rush of oxytocin. Hence this is also called ‘hug hormone’. Oxytocin is released during the moments of sharing intimacy and love with others. Dr.Paul Zak, the famous American neuroeconomist, says that interpersonal touch can raise the level of oxytocin considerably. He recommends eight hugs a day for keeping your blues away. Social intimacy, charitable activities, and forgiving and loving your enemies can serve as a boon to enhance your oxytocin level and happiness.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which brings about the feelings of confidence and self esteem. It is found that the feelings of loneliness and depression are usually associated with low levels of serotonin. When your social connections are wide and strong you feel significant and confident and your serotonin levels will be higher. If you need a serotonin boost on a stressful situation you can resort to writing a gratitude journal or reflecting on past victories and achievements.
Endorphins are released in response to pain and stress and help to alleviate anxiety and depression. They act as a buffer that counterbalances stress. In addition to regular exercise, laughter, smile and humour can trigger instantaneous endorphin release. Studies have shown that exposure to sunlight or nature can enhance the production of both endorphins and serotonin, giving a boost to your happiness.
Ways to boost your happy hormones
The following methods are proved to be highly effective for boosting your happy brain chemicals and induce the feeling of joy.
Researchers have found that helping others or giving for charity triggers the release of oxytocin which boosts your mood and counter acts the effects of the villain stress hormone, cortisol. When oxytocin is released, serotonin and dopamine are also released. So give alms and give it more often and be happy always. John D Rockefeller Jr., one of the greatest philanthropists advised; ‘Think of giving not as a duty but as a privilege’.
Random acts of kindness
Studies of Dr.Wagish William Ishak, professor of psychiatry at Cidars , Sinai have shown that random acts of kindness can trigger the release of dopamine and oxytocin that can give you a feeling of euphoria. Being kind can boost serotonin also, there by regulating your mood. As the famous American doctor, Ray Layman Wilbur rightly pointed out; ‘Unless we think of others and do something for them, we miss one of the greatest source of happiness’
Gratitude is the acknowledgement of goodness in one’s life and recognizing the sources of this goodness with thankfulness. Researchers have shown that when gratitude is expressed your brain releases a surge of feel good hormones such as dopamine serotonin and oxytocin. These chemicals arouse the feelings of love, intimacy and happiness. The famous positive psychologist and author, Sanja Lyubomirsky regards gratitude as the quickest path to happiness.
The practice of writing a gratitude journal every night is a wonderful way of boosting your happiness. According to Cicero, the ancient Roman philosopher, ‘Gratitude is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all others’.
It is quite evident that the act of forgiving makes one happier and healthier. When you are harboring negative emotions like anger, bitterness, revenge and hatred, you will be unable to experience positive emotions of love or joy. Oxitocin, the love hormone, is released when you forgive and start loving your enemy. According to Robert Muller; ‘To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness’.
Researchers from Stanford School of Medicine have shown that oxytocin is released through any type of social connectivity. This in turn triggers the surge of serotonin which then activates reward circuitry of the brain resulting in a happy feeling. Many studies suggest that social isolation is detrimental for our wellbeing and happiness.
Do meditation regularly since it boosts dopamine and endorphins. Mindfulness practices and mindfulness meditation are highly effective for this. Meditation and mindfulness are immensely beneficial for your mental health and happiness. You can very well start meditation by simply spending at least ten minutes every day focusing on your breath. If your mind wanders, you may gently bring back your awareness to your breathing as the well-known Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hahn pointed out; ‘Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor’.
Several studies have shown that laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the feel good hormone. Endorphins relieve pain and promote over all wellbeing’. Laughter reduces the level of stress hormone, cortisol in the body. Laughter is a short cut to health, wellbeing and happiness. So try to follow the wise advice of Lord Byron, the famous English poet; ‘Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine’
Top level researchers from Mcgill University in Montreal showed that levels of dopamine increased up to nine percent higher when volunteers were listening to music they enjoyed. In addition to listening, singing or creating music or playing a musical instrument is also effective in boosting these brain chemicals. The seven swaras of classical music activate the seven chakras of the human body there by healing the body, mind and soul. As Jason Mraz, the famous American singer and song writer revealed; Music is a weapon in the war against unhappiness.
Get 7-9 hours of quality sleep every day. The consequences of sleep deprivation can be hazardous and disastrous. It can cause mood disorders and several cognitive and physiological problems. It is found that people who sleep between eight to nine hours during night tend to wake up a lot happier. Mahatma Gandhi once stressed the importance of sleep by his words; ‘When I wake up, I am reborn’.
A massage helps to stimulate the release of positive hormones- endorphins, serotonin and dopamine giving you a feeling of happiness. It is found that giving a massage to someone else or doing a self massage can be beneficial as receiving a massage. Enough positive hormones are produced in both cases.
Cuddle or caress your loved ones
When you touch or cuddle or hug or holding hands with your loved ones the happy hormones, oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin are released making it possible for you to experience the feelings of happiness. Even cuddling your pet can do wonders.
It has been found by researchers that exposure to sunlight can increase the levels of serotonin in your brain which is associated with lifting your mood and inducing tranquility. Lack of sun exposure can cause a dip in serotonin level which can lead to a higher risk of depression and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) You can make sunlight your miraculous medicine and priceless tonic as the well-known poet Charles Reznikoff, who said; “I will walk by myself and cure myself in the sunshine and the wind’
The smell of vanilla and lavender has been found to produce endorphins. So keep some scented oil with you so that you can lift your mood as and when required.
Eating chocolates and spicy foods
Several studies have proved that dark chocolate and spicy foods can stimulate your brain to release endorphins. When you eat chocolate, four brain chemicals; endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxitocin are released, there by lifting your mood immediately. Hence, Ursula Kohaupt, the well-known author of the book; Pendeln, said; ‘Chocolate is happiness that you can eat’
As already mentioned regular physical exercise, yoga, relaxation, nature watch and smile can help you to enhance your happy brain chemicals.
Always remember the wise words of Denis Waitly, the famous American motivational speaker; ‘Happiness is a spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude’.