When people talk about their life goals, being happy is generally always up there with the best of them. In our society, we are taught to continually chase what makes us happy, which often leave us feeling as though we are in some way lacking if we are unable to sustain it, but as we are becoming more aware of others and our own mental health generally, finding tools which we can add to our own wellbeing inventory which aid our happiness, is a fantastic place to continue the conversation around happiness.
Naturally boosting your feelings of happiness can help stimulate productivity, strengthen relationships, increase motivation and improve the level of life contentment people record.
Simply increasing our happiness may seem like a big task – maybe you think you need to be richer, or thinner, smarter, more successful, in love or have more friends, but, you would be wrong. What we need to do is make a few small and simple changes that can alter our brain chemistry to increase the levels of happy hormones flowing through our body and increasing the feeling of happiness in our minds.
Get the science
Our feelings and emotions are controlled by the hormones in our body (along with most other bodily functions). The hormones responsible for our happiness are:
Endorphins known as the happy hormones, are naturally produced in our bodies and distributed by our central nervous system. These hormones are responsible for pain relief and feelings of euphoria.
Oxytocin known as the love drug, also naturally produced by our hypothalamus, this hormone is related to our reproductive systems, plays a role in childbirth and improving social relationships. In women, after childbirth it is the release of Oxytocin that aids bonding with a newborn baby during breastfeeding.
Serotonin is possibly one you are already familiar with, Serotonin is known to contribute to feelings of happiness but also contributes to our cognitive function, our memory function and aids our learning of new things.
Finally, Dopamine which also related to depression when alack of this hormone is recorded, but its main functions is our motivation and body movement.
These are our main hormones related to our feelings of happiness; we are going to look at how to boost these naturally within our bodies to increase those positive vibes every day.
Increasing our endorphin levels is done mainly through exercise. After exercise, the levels of endorphins released in our bodies is considerably higher. So, keep in mind during that difficult burpee station in circuit class, that although it may not feel like it right at the time, the burpee is actually making you happy!
Regular exercise is often prescribed as a treatment for feelings of depression. Adding at least 3 workouts or movement sessions to your week has been shown to better regulate the natural production of endorphins in our bodies, and therefore contribute to us feeling better on a day-to-day basis.
It doesn’t always have to be a killer cardio session either, even yoga and meditation have also been known to increase our endorphin levels and lower our stress hormones too. Whatever your chosen style of movement, your body and your mind will thank you for it.
Eat yourself happy
Show me a blog where I don’t talk about food and I’ll eat my hat! I hope we’re all starting to get the idea that diet plays a gigantic role in so many parts of our health and wellbeing and that eating well for our body type can do wonderful things to our mind, body, and sou.
But, to increase happiness get hot, hot, hot. Who likes spicy food? (not me, but that’s beside the point) due to the mild feelings of pain that can be felt in the mouth when we eat spicy foods our brains release more endorphins to help relieve the pain we are feeling. So, spicy foods can actually make you feel happier. Pass the hot sauce please.
Had a tough day? Adding some chilli to your evening meal can boost those happy hormone levels to finish your day off on a high, literally.
Bananas (I know you sang it out with me, b a n a n a s) we have already explored before just how wonderful bananas can be as a diet staple. But, I bet you didn’t know that bananas could make you happier, calmer, more relaxed and generally just improve your mood? Well they can, bananas contain tryptophan, which is a protein that the body converts into serotonin – a lack of serotonin is what contributes to feelings of depression and it the main hormone targeted by anti depressant medication. Also known to reduce levels of anxiety and produce a calming effect on the body the goodness in bananas can really boost the levels of happiness in your brain so adding them to your breakfast or replacing sugary snacks throughout the day could do wonders for your mood. Other foods, which are high in tryptophan, include salmon, eggs, the hero that is spinach, and also soy foods and nuts.
As an even better bonus the vitamins and minerals in bananas can also decrease the effects of PMS leading up to your period and help prevent you from experiencing mood swings at this time (something my partner is eager for me try out!)
You are my sunshine….
It’s no surprise that more sunshine makes us happy, we all know that when the sun is shining and the weather is warmer we are much more agreeable and fun loving people. However, increasing your body’s vitamin D levels through sun exposure (careful of your skin now), can also help increase your natural serotonin levels, so it’s not just the sun that makes you happy, it’s the science.
Sex….now that I have your attention let’s talk about…well, sex.
Oxytocin, the love drug is increased in our bodies during most forms of close interaction. Hugs, handshakes, kissing and of course, sex will naturally stimulate the production of oxytocin in our bodies and therefore make us feel happier. It also helps us bond with people and increases our feelings and emotions in a positive way towards the other person involved in our interaction because it makes us feel calm, relaxed, close and trusting.
Scientifically oxytocin plays a large role in childbirth, it is the hormone that stimulates contraction of the uterus and aids lactation when breastfeeding. In males, oxytocin also aids sperm release. So it really is the love drug, released in all loving interactions.
Stuck without a person to cuddle? Fear not, cuddling your beloved dog or a pet of your choice can also cause the release of oxytocin in humans. Again, this may come as no surprise and you possibly already knew the happiness that you feel when you get to play with a cuddly puppy, but now you know that scientifically you are actually making yourself happier too.
Getting a good night sleep can also be vital in the production and regulation of our happy hormones, especially dopamine. The presence of dopamine in our bloodstream promotes wakefulness, energy and motivation so with our natural body clock we generally see spikes in dopamine levels in the mornings and lower levels when we are naturally preparing for sleep. In today’s busy and modern lifestyle we don’t always tend to stick to these natural circadian rhythms. Working night shifts, staying up late, playing on our phones in the dark and generally just not getting enough sleep can disturb this natural production rhythm and cause the release of dopamine at the wrong times for your daily routines, affecting our moods and the levels of the other happy hormones in our body.
So, set yourself a pre-sleep routine that has you winding down from a busy day at least 30 minutes before you intend to actually shut your eyes for sleep. Winding down can consist of anything that works for you but it’s important not to allow any blue light (emitted by our phones, laptops, tv’s and other screens) into your eyes for this time. Try mediation, reading by a low light, a stretching routine, or a sleep visualisation exercise and allow your body to calm down, being resting and prepare itself for a good night sleep.
So the main things we have to do to be happier are sleep, eat, exercise, cuddle and sunbathe….sign me up right now.
Remember, our hormones are amazing things and they control absolutely everything within our body so aiding the natural production and regulation of these hormones will help improve our overall moods, health and wellbeing, feel good factors and general bodily functions, what’s not to love about that.