Brain Hacks for More Happiness. Happiness is a habit, it’s like an inside job, so to speak. We can maximise our opportunity to be happy by understanding what happens in our brains, what brings us a chemical high of being happy. The limbic system is the part of the brain that controls our motivation, behaviour, and emotions. It really is our emotional brain. It’s a survival mechanism, and it produces chemicals that let our bodies know what’s good, or what’s bad for us.
What we need to do is tap into four brain chemicals, they’re dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. In our daily lives events and situations can trigger these neurotransmitters automatically, but there are ways that you can encourage your brain to produce them. This allows you to create and repeat feelings of happiness. When these chemicals are released, as well as being happy, we become more motivated, and more productive, and we experience greater well-being as well. (5 mins 21 watch time, or read on below)
Let’s start with dopamine, which is referred to as the happiness drug. It really is responsible for motivating us to take action, make decisions, and feel pleasure when we reach our goals. Dopamine is the brain’s way of patting us on the back for a job well done. When we score a goal, when we get an A, we cross the finish line, for example. If you’re experiencing procrastination, self-doubt, or lethargy, low dopamine levels actually could be to blame. You can manufacture a few wins for yourself. There are some ways to increase your dopamine levels.
Creating mini finish lines to cross instead of one big final one, when a goal is achieved helps us feel good over a longer period of time. Our brain likes lots of little dopamine hits over time, not waiting until there’s one big one at the end. Initiating acts of kindness towards other people actually gives your brain a dopamine hit. Another one and you might not want to hear this but quitting smoking. A recent study showed smokers had 15 to 20% less capacity for producing dopamine than non-smokers, but it’s completely reversible if you stop smoking.
The next chemical of choice is oxytocin, which is referred to as the cuddle hormone. It’s released through social interactions like giving or receiving gifts, making eye contact, giving and receiving affection, like handshakes, hugs pats on the shoulder, or even giving birth releases oxytocin. There are some ways you can do that.
Making eye contact with people during conversations. You can get a massage, you can hug a friend, or you can pet your pet. Meditation and prayer can help as well with oxytocin.
Are you in a good mood? If you are, you can thank serotonin. Serotonin is the brain’s anti-depressant drug of choice. It surges when you feel like your life and your efforts actually are making a difference. If you’re feeling hangry, which is a combination of hungry and angry, 80% of serotonin exists in the stomach, skipping meals will reduce your serotonin which can make you feel grumpy. When you are a bit hangry eating something helps.
Ways to increase serotonin; expressing gratitude is a really good one. Increased exposure to sunlight – sunlight produces vitamin D which triggers serotonin production for us. Think happy thoughts, serotonin doesn’t actually know the difference between reality and imagination. When your imagination or your memory is active, it produces serotonin in exactly the same way as it would if it were real. Exercise – low key exercise stimulates serotonin so gardening walking the dog or even playing with your kids will count.
Endorphins if you’ve ever hit your thumb with a hammer, stubbed your toe, or had a runner’s high, you know what endorphins feel like. They work like morphine to alleviate pain and stress, and there are ways we can increase our endorphin levels as well. Eating chocolate – that’s the good news. Chocolate will boost endorphins. Exercise releases endorphins, as little as 30 minutes can do the trick. Find opportunities to have fun and laugh because laughing increases endorphins. Aromatherapy can help. There are certain aromas that stimulate the production of endorphins. Vanilla, lavender, peppermint, you can diffuse those into the air, have a few drops in your bath or even put some in your next cup of tea (make sure that you get essential oils that are food grade and edible because some are and some aren’t).
So really, when you think about it, there are lots of things you can do in your daily life to increase the chemicals in your brain, the feel good chemicals, which will increase your opportunities to feel happy. When you’re feeling happier, you will increase your productivity. It’s like a cycle. The happier you are, the more productive you are. The more productive you are, the happier you’ll feel.
The Dalai Lama said, “Happiness isn’t a luxury. It’s the purpose of our existence”. So happy brain hacking!
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