What are the hormones of happiness and how can you use them to “drug dose” yourself?
These are powerful questions, because what’s better than learning how to assist your body in dosing you with a flood of happiness chemicals that can improve your mood, creativity, and confidence?
To me, not much can beat that, so let’s dive in.
Intro to the Happiness Hormones
Throughout time, philosophers, religious leaders, therapists, and the public at large has tried to define happiness.
What do I think happiness is? From a functional perspective, it’s the state where you feel amazing and you just can’t help but smile.
However, from a biological perspective, the answer is slightly different.
Happiness is the state where four hormones — dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins — are released in high doses.
What are Happiness Hormones?
Hormones are chemical substances produced in the body that control and regulate the activity of certain cells or organs. Hormones facilitate every activity of life, including processes like reproduction, metabolism, digestion, growth, and mood.
The hormonal system, otherwise known as the endocrine system, uses glands to secrete hormones that get distributed across the body.
For example, testosterone and estrogen are produced by the ovaries and adrenal gland, while hormones such as prolactin and luteinizing are produced by the pituitary gland. Each hormone can be categorized based on its functions and the gland producing it.
Learning to be Your Own Drug Dealer
We also have hormones which can be active in more than one physical process — known as neurotransmitters. In this category, we have the four happiness hormones.
The happiness hormones spell out the acronym D.O.S.E., making them easy to remember:
These hormones are the chemicals in the brain that impact happiness. If you’ve ever experienced changes in appetite, mood, energy, self-esteem, anger, changes in weight, or gain/loss of sex drive, chances are that you’re being impacted by these hormones.
To better understand their role in human happiness, let’s explore them each in detail.
Dopamine is an important chemical messenger that is involved in memory, motivation, and attention.
It also helps regulate movement, learning, and emotional responses. It is perhaps one of the most well-known chemicals in our body.
The right balance of this hormone is vital for both physical and mental well-being. A deficiency in this hormone can also result in some critical medical conditions, including Parkinson’s disease and depression.
Studies have found that dopamine levels may correlate with addictive behaviors related to cocaine, alcohol, and other drugs. And, regular drug use can cause the brain to produce, absorb, or transmit less dopamine, which can further exacerbate the cycle of addiction.
Symptoms of dopamine deficiency include loss of balance, low energy, mood swings, muscle cramps, feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem and more.
Dopamine deficiency can be influenced by many factors, including drug abuse, an unhealthy diet, and more.
How to Boost your Dopamine Levels
You can increase your body’s dopamine level by:
- Eating foods that are rich in protein
- Setting goals for yourself, because this will give you clarity and something to strive towards
- Eating foods that can boost levels of magnesium, omega-3, vitamin D, etc.
- Taking drugs such as ropinirole and pramipexole (these drugs are anti-depressants and mood stabilizers)
- Exercise, therapeutic massage, and potentially, meditation
- Keeping a healthy gut biome (or taking probiotics)
- Getting enough sleep
Next we have oxytocin, which is widely regarded as a “love hormone” because levels of oxytocin tend to increase during orgasm and hugging.
It is produced by the hypothalamus secreted by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland (a pea-sized structure at the base of the brain).
It is also the maternal hormone and it is often released during childbirth and breastfeeding. As such, it is a hormone that triggers bond between a mother and a baby.
Oxytocin increases emotional feelings and trust. While individual levels vary, on average, it is more prevalent in women than in men. Also, research has shown that it may be beneficial to people suffering from autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and interestingly, anxiety.
How can you boost your oxytocin levels? You can:
- Show affection to friends or family (hugging, kissing, or touching)
- Get a massage
- Soak in a hot tub
- Share a meal
- Do something nice for another person
Like every other neurotransmitter, serotonin is responsible for transmitting specific signals from one part of the brain to another. It is found in the digestive system, and sometimes in the blood. It is also present in the central nervous system (CNS).
Serotonin is the hormone that is mainly responsible for stabilizing our feelings of well-being and happiness.
It is also triggered when we feel important. Serotonin influences most brain cells both either directly and indirectly.
For example, it affects:
Mood: In the brain, serotonin has a great influence and impacts levels of anxiety, mood, and happiness. Illicit drugs such as LSD and Ecstasy also cause a significant rise in the hormonal level.
Sexual functions: It appears to inhibit sexual activity
Bone Density: High levels of serotonin in the bone increases osteoporosis level
You can see why this hormone is so important and why reduced levels of this hormone in the body can lead to anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, phobias, and generalized anxiety.
How to boost your serotonin levels?
There are many proven ways of increasing serotonin levels in the body, including:
- Trying to consume foods that are rich in tryptophan (an amino acid that can be converted into several important molecules such as serotonin and melatonin). Examples of those foods include milk, corn, and other forms of carbohydrates
- Performing aerobic exercises such as running, brisk walking, swimming, and cycling.
- Having happy thoughts, for example, thinking about positive memories or being grateful.
Next, we have endorphins. Endorphins originate from the two words “endogenous” and “morphine” i.e. “from the body” and “pain relievers”, respectively.
Endorphins are chemicals produced by the brain to cope with stress and pain. They are your body’s natural painkillers.
They help you to keep going even when you are exhausted and are what produces runner’s high (the euphoric feeling of great happiness after exercising).
Apart from being a painkiller, it can also help you to focus and as well as help you to improve your overall mood. Endorphins can be secreted through aromatherapy, laughter, healthy diet, sunshine, and other positive behaviors. Not surprisingly, the levels of endorphins in the body varies from individual to individual.
Benefits of endorphins can include reduced stress and anxiety, higher self-esteem, weight loss, and more.
Signs and symptoms of low endorphin levels may include a proclivity for addictions, as well as trouble sleeping, moodiness, frequent displays of impulsive behavior and more.
How to Boost your Endorphin Levels
Tactics for boosting your endorphin levels include:
- Exercise: Exercise triggers a flood of endorphins that can combat depression and anxiety.
- Spicy foods: Your tongue has receptors that react to spice by sending messages to your brain to produce endorphins.
- Chocolate: Chocolate contains mood-boosting compounds such as phenethylamine and theobromine, organic compounds that boost endorphin levels and suppress pain.
- Music: By creating music or playing the music that you love, your brain produces endorphins.
Playing music, eating spicy foods and having sex can support endorphin release as well.
Activating Your Happiness Hormones
How important are the hormones of happiness to you? Can you tell when you undertake activities that stimulate their release? If so, congrats on learning the all-mighty power of how to “drug dose” yourself.
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