Brain chemicals are rapid-fire messages from one neuron or nerve to the other telling each other to either hurry up or to chill and calm down. Excitatory or inhibitory neurotransmitters can then combine and have a huge impact on your thinking and mood. Some of them can contribute to your happiness, making you feel sensations of closeness and joy. Others, not so much.
The four major happy brain chemicals are dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. By understanding how these chemicals work on a basic level, we can learn how to naturally boost our happiness.
Approaching a reward triggers dopamine. Dopamine motivates you to seek what meets your needs. Your ancestors released dopamine whenever they found prey or freshwater. And indeed, eating delicious, nutritious foods will surely boost your reward chemical even nowadays. What’s more important, though, is that you can make dopamine work for you for goals that go way beyond your basic needs. Embrace a new objective and take steps every day toward it. At every step completed, your brain will reward you, building new dopamine pathways that will help you get rid of bad habits. Dopamine motivates you to persist.
Oxytocin has a reputation as the love hormone – and it’s well earned. Studies link the production of oxytocin to physical affection, including kissing, cuddling, or having sex. Physical touch is not the only way to boost oxytocin production, though. Simply socializing or spending time with someone you care about will improve your oxytocin levels, increasing closeness and positive relationship feelings. Petting (or even only thinking about) your dog or cat increases your oxytocin levels as well – that’s probably the reason why we spend so much time on kitten photos.
Serotonin has been labeled the confidence neurochemical. As much as you may dislike this, this also means that you do have an innate urge for status – because you get a rush of serotonin whenever you feel respected and admired. If you want to boost your serotonin levels without turning into full Patrick Bateman, simply focus on your successes and develop your sense of self-worth. You don’t need to constantly beat you down.
What if I told you that one of our happy brain chemicals is actually caused by… pain? You may be surprised, but the “endorphin high” you’ve heard about can only be obtained when you push past your limits. Endorphins are the brain’s natural painkillers. And it’s crystal clear that exercising is the best way to increase your endorphin levels – and a good way to boost your overall happiness.
If you’re looking for an activity that can give a boost to more than one of the happy brain chemicals you needn’t look far. Listening to instrumental music increases dopamine production in your brain. It also puts you in a good mood, increasing your serotonin levels. And guess what – creating and performing music leads to the release of endorphins. Listen to the wonderful music below to experience a much-needed feel-good chemicals release.