We are constantly engaged in the mode of “Go, go, go!” While there is no one-and-done solution to our jam-packed days in busy society, we can elevate the amounts of four “happiness chemicals” in our brain to increase joy and balance in our lives.
1. Dopamine: The Reward Chemical
Dopamine is a hormone related to how we experience pleasure. It impacts our ability to think, to focus, even to find things interesting! Dopamine also affects certain functions of the body, from mental motivation to physical movement. As such, it’s an important chemical for us to remain on top of. But what can we do to achieve that?
Complete a task.
Get out your to-do list! If you don’t have one, make one, then get to work and start ticking off items. The sense of fulfillment you experience after accomplishing a task is essentially production of dopamine. And these tasks don’t have to be laborious: they can be as simple as wiping down the counters or taking your dog out.
Yes, it’s that easy. Dopamine is related to pleasure, so go eat something you like! To achieve a two-for-one, you can even cook/bake whatever food you intend to eat. By doing so, you’ll boost your dopamine in both enjoying your meal and by having completed the task of preparing it. 🙂
Self-care is about the prioritization of your mental and physical well-being, which means self-care looks different for everyone. Consider taking a hot bath, writing a poem, or watching an inspirational TedTalk. Anything goes, so long as it makes you happy.
2. Oxytocin: The Love Hormone
Oxytocin is a hormone related to our behavior as well as social interaction. It is connected to how we experience trust, anxiety, and stress; it is also the chemical responsible for creating the bond between mother and infant. So, how can we increase our levels of this hormone?
You know that friend you haven’t hung out with in a while? Yes, them! Go shoot them a text—it’s time to reconnect. While your capacity for social interaction may vary depending on if you’re introverted or extroverted, you still need to get out there. Take a walk in the park, visit a museum, meet at a coffee shop: go somewhere you can strike up a conversation.
While this has become more difficult during times of COVID, it is still important we engage in physical interaction with others. Hug your sibling, kiss your significant other, go pet your animal! It will all boost your oxytocin, increasing your connection with that individual.
This option is great for increasing levels of oxytocin, as “helping others” covers a wide range of assistance. Carry someone’s groceries. Watch your neighbor’s cat while they’re away. Proofread your friend’s resume. There is no one right answer. As long as you feel a sense of accomplishment after lending a hand, you’re on the right track.
3. Endorphin: The Pain-Killer
Endorphins are chemicals that reduce our perception of pain. They trigger positive feelings in the body, even acting as a sedative to help lessen stress and boost self-esteem. Sounds like something we can all use more of!
Yes, I know, this suggestion sounds unpleasant to some. But exercise is one of the easiest ways to produce endorphins, which boost your mood and increase confidence in yourself! And ‘exercise’ does not mean running yourself into the dirt. Take a jog, if that’s what you like, but exercise can also mean playing golf, dancing in your bedroom, or doing yoga—whatever you find joy in.
Engage in media.
Have you been putting off that new movie for “the right time” to enjoy it? Congrats, today is the day! Watching a movie, listening to music, and simply partaking in different forms of media—particularly those you enjoy—are surefire ways to boost your endorphins.
“Laughter is the best medicine” may be a cliche, but it’s not without truth. Laughter increases the amount of oxygen you intake, stimulating your body and producing a rush of endorphins. So go read a joke book, watch that new comedy special, or even just call up the funniest friend you know!
4. Serotonin: The Mood Stabilizer
Serotonin is a hormone that helps reduce depression and regulate anxiety. It works to keep our mood stable, also helping us sleep and even heal, as it plays a role in blood clotting. Like the previously discussed chemicals, there are ways we can go about ensuring our brain is producing enough of this hormone.
Specifically, go outdoors on a beautiful day. Sit in the sunshine. Walk through a garden. Experiencing sunshine is a common part of treatment for seasonal depression, thus emphasizing the importance of simply stepping outside for a while to help boost our serotonin.
Find a quiet space, and for a few minutes, allow yourself to relax. Focus on what’s around you; not your upcoming interview, not your big project due. Push aside everyday worries. By doing so, you will increase your serotonin and find yourself better prepared to face those stressors later on. Unsure where to start? Here are free mindfulness apps you can investigate.
Research suggests that dwelling on happy memories allows our brain to produce more serotonin. When you find yourself making a happy memory, take a moment to think about the details so they will be easier to recover later on. When “later on” comes, sit in the enjoyment of your recollection rather than rush to your next objective. Your mind and body will thank you for it.
Engaging in these activities are easy, accessible ways we can increase the amounts of the “happiness chemicals” in our brain.
Go on—give them a try!
Dima Ghawi is the founder of a global talent development company with a primary mission for advancing individuals in leadership. Through keynote speeches, training programs and executive coaching, Dima has empowered thousands of professionals across the globe to expand their leadership potential. In addition, she provides guidance to business executives to develop diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies and to implement a multi-year plan for advancing quality leaders from within the organization.