The 4 chemicals responsible for happiness, and how you release each chemical
Four different chemicals are responsible for making you feel happy. They are Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin & Endorphins, sometimes known as (DOSE). These chemicals are responsible for different types of happy feelings that you can feel. Did you know the warmth you feel from a long hug is different from when you achieve a task on your to-do list? Did you know the high you get from working out or doing exercise is different from the feeling you get from being recognised for an achievement? This is due to the different chemicals that our brain releases based on different activities. These 4 primary brain chemicals can drive positive emotions throughout your day, if we can understand how these chemicals work on a basic level then we can understand how to promote happiness within us in a natural way. This article is an introductory guide on; what these chemicals are, how to release them, and how they affect your daily happiness.
Dopamine causes the little happy feeling when someone messages you, you get a notification or complete a small task on your to-do list. Dopamine is an incredible drug, it is meant to motivate your body towards a distant goal. This is done one step at a time, the dopamine drug as you can imagine has great benefits when working on a large project or big dream. Dopamine is essentially what can help you get through your to-do list or motivates you to start new habits. There is a caveat, dopamine is addictive and as there are different ways to release dopamine we can get addicted to the specific things that release dopamine. For example, we can get addicted to news feeds on; YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn and as they are constantly refreshing the feed the dopamine hit is stretched out. Even worse, the effects of dopamine are fleeting, thus this is not the long-lasting happiness that you will be able to savour. It will last just long enough to get you to check another social feed, video notification or even play another level of a game.
Healthy ways to induce dopamine
Focusing on habits that ultimately aid and progress you are good ways to focus your release of dopamine. We all know playing video games can be fun, but by completing a task for work or school you are likely to get similar dopamine hit even though it may not be your preference of activity. Eventually, your brain will be in a habit loop and will prefer releasing dopamine from doing your work. Another way to channel dopamine is to have a to-do list of activities and tasks that are good for you, this way as you do them you are getting your dopamine hit whilst doing something good for you. Ultimately, it is not about taking out bad habits all at once, but to be measured about how often you do them so you can regulate your dopamine coming from bad habits.
Oxytocin is the second chemical in the acronym DOSE, it is well known as the love or hugging drug. It gets the name hugging drug because it is released by the brain during physical contact with others. It is also known as the love drug as it is the most common feeling behind love, friendship or deep trust with others. Humans are said to be social animals because of the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin has other ranges of benefits as it is released in our brain, it can boost our immune systems, make us better problem solvers and make us more resistant to the addictive qualities of dopamine. Unlike dopamine, oxytocin gives us lasting feelings of calm and safety.
How do you increase oxytocin levels naturally?
A simple act of touch seems to boost oxytocin other ways that build on this are; giving someone a massage, cuddling, giving someone a hug and having sex. There are other ways to boost oxytocin, such as close contact sports like martial arts or jiujitsu. Group activities that involve singing like karaoke or choir also boost oxytocin levels. This could be for a twofold reason, as the group element gives a boost but also the aspect of music as well. In 2009, 20 open-heart surgery patients who listened to music while on bed rest had higher levels of oxytocin than patients who didn’t listen to music.
Oxytocin levels come down to the ability to share and receive love, therefore letting others know how much you care about them and appreciate them is important for self-esteem, and confidence and this is also mirrored chemically with the way oxytocin is released. This is equally important for self-love, as acts of yoga and meditation both are said to increase oxytocin levels. Meditation can help promote self-love within yourself. All in all, the methods to increase oxytocin involve connecting with those around you in a loving way!
Serotonin is another social chemical, but it functions in an entirely different way. Serotonin plays a role in the dynamics of pride, loyalty and status. When we feel a sense of accomplishment and recognition from others, we are experiencing the effects of serotonin.
This could be:
Being appreciated at your place of work or school
Finishing a competition, having tried your best
Receiving grades that you are proud of
All in all, this can help boost your serotonin levels and thus create a strong positive emotion. Serotonin can help build from both sides of the receiver and giver. As a leader, serotonin is what motivates them to excel and grow their influence, become popular, win awards and get recognised for their work. However, the leaders’ followers are also compelled to do the same, as they are tasked with not wanting to let their leader, parents or teachers down. Serotonin also makes one feel a sense of accountability to those who provided them support and protection en route to accomplish their feats.
How do you healthily release serotonin?
Firstly, it is important that when you understand how serotonin is released to understand why you are choosing the goals you have chosen. If you are choosing goals that are for the sole purpose of other people, perhaps its time to rethink those goals as it may give you the serotonin boost once you achieve them but ultimately that feeling will not be able to be kept for long as it was done for the sake of others. Choosing goals and accomplishments that are based on things that you would like to, are key to using serotonin more sustainably. This way, you are not feeding off empty accolades for something you have no real interest in. Ensure that the status that you are striving for, is for yourself and not so you can impress others. Following simple but important guidelines like this are key to using serotonin more healthily.
Runners talk about a high they get when they start running for a while, known as “runners high”, that feeling comes from endorphins. Endorphins are essentially released in response to pain, they help us push our bodies beyond comfort levels and persist when we might otherwise want to give up. Once you remove the pain part of the equation, endorphins can feel like a high or even a nice relaxing feeling. If you take a cold shower in the morning, you can get a considerable boost of endorphins by showering in cold for 1-2 minutes. Some even argue that deep belly laughing, is caused by endorphins, the contracting of stomach muscles is enough pain to release a few feel-good endorphins into your body. Endorphins are the reason exercise is often suggested to help with stress, they’re the reason a gym routine or some planned exercise can help you unwind after a long day at work. As endorphins are predictable, they are more useful as we are aware that by doing some exercise you will feel that much better.
How to release endorphins in a way that is aligned with you?
When choosing how to release endorphins, it is important to think about what exercises you are actually into rather than doing exercise just to release endorphins. This could be sports, running, fighting, walking, dancing etc… It is important to choose sports that you enjoy, that way you can create a long-term habit out of doing that exercise. This will allow you to bring this form of exercise into your weekly routine and thus you know when you will be getting this boost whilst having fun. Additionally to your chosen sport, if you feel like you want to be more active, it is good to schedule lighter forms of exercise on a more consistent basis. This could be a YouTube workout, a walk or even a light jog. This way you can tap into the endorphins form of happiness regularly, and use it to combat days where you feel low.
In summary, we can see that there are 4 key components to happiness known as DOSE.
Dopamine - The small task motivator, can form good and bad habits
Oxytocin Based on receiving and giving of love, helps build social bonds and is stimulated by physical and emotional love.
Serotonin - Based on the recognition of accomplishment and acknowledgement of effort
Endorphins - The high released by exercise (Linked to overcoming pain)
These 4 chemicals make up the varying feelings of happiness that we experience daily. We can see that it is key that we find ways to release the hormones but more importantly in a way that is aligned with the person we want to be. Checking social media feeds and completing small tasks for your project/work are two different ways to release dopamine, it is ultimately up to us to choose the ways we would like to experience happiness. This comes down to habit, being kind to yourself and ultimately understanding the person we want to be. We all have low days and high days and this can sometimes determine how we access these hormones however, ultimately when we do activities that are aligned with us and release these hormones through these activities it almost certainly allows us to cherish this feeling.
Are you aware of the different ways you release happiness hormones?
Have you tried changing but struggled to find healthy ways to release these hormones?
Comment on your happiness journey below.
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