Tuesday May 28, 2024

Happy chemicals

By Dr Farrukh Saleem
June 16, 2019

Happiness means different things to different people. But, the ‘science of happiness’ has identified four common chemicals that are always behind ‘happiness’. They are: dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin. According to the science of happiness, “happiness is largely a chemical experience”. Yes, the four brain chemicals that make you happy are: dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin. Yes, whenever you feel ‘happy’ these are the four chemicals that are at play.

Dopamine is the ‘reward chemical’, the ‘feel-good’ hormone. Dopamine “allows us to have feelings of bliss, pleasure, euphoria, drive, motivation, focus and concentration”. Yes, people who are depressed have an inadequate level of dopamine (or dopamine deficiency).

How does one increase one’s level of dopamine? Answer: Set a goal and achieve it. To be certain, “every type of reward seeking behaviour that has been studied increases the level of dopamine transmission in the brain”. Increase your level of dopamine and get out of depression. Other natural ‘dopamine-boosting tactics’ include decreasing sugar and caffeine intake plus regular physical activity.

Endorphins are ‘pain relievers’ and ‘happiness boosters’. Our bodies naturally produce endorphins when under pain or stress (in order to cope with both stress and pain). Endorphins are ‘natural opioids’. Endorphins “work similarly to opioid pain relievers……Endorphins can produce a ‘high’ that is both healthy and safe, without the risk of addiction and overdose.” Endorphins cause ‘runner’s high’, a feeling of euphoria that is experienced by individuals engaged in strenuous exercises.

Yes, without enough endorphins a person is more likely to suffer depressive disorders. Exercise boosts the release of endorphins and endorphins act as antidepressants. According to one study by the US National Institutes of Health (HQ: Maryland), donating and helping others leads to improved endorphin levels. Other endorphins boosters include praying, dark chocolate, spicy foods, watching a comedy show, reading and forwarding a funny WhatsApp.

Oxytocin is the ‘love hormone, the cuddle hormone, the trust hormone and the bonding hormone’. Oxytocin is associated with social alliances, mother-child relationship and the general good feeling trusting another person. Ever wondered why people love each other? Answer: Oxytocin.

Hugging someone you love releases oxytocin. Laughter is another source of oxytocin. Yes, being trusted, listening to soothing music and deep breathing also release oxytocin. Some claim that there’s even an oxytocin-rich diet: eggs, mixed with bananas with peppers. Yes, “when someone receives a gift their oxytocin levels can rise”.

Serotonin is the “don’t worry, be happy” chemical. According to researchers, low serotonin levels make one “irritable, anxious and pessimistic”. Yes, low levels of serotonin are also linked to depression and sleeping disorders. Serotonin, researchers say, “flows when you feel significant or important”. To be certain, much of the serotonin is produced in the digestive system (it is also present in the central nervous system and blood platelets).

Natural serotonin boosters include foods high in complex carbohydrates, such as “sweet potatoes, apples, blueberries and carrots”. Brain serotonin boosters include “chicken, eggs, cheese, turkey, beef, salmon, tuna, beans, lentils and spinach”. Remember, most “antidepressants focus on the production of serotonin”.

Here are the four things that will make you happy: friends and family; forgiveness; giving and gratitude. Our brain communicates with itself and happiness has chemical origins. The good news is that we can all hack into our happy chemicals.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: Twitter: @saleemfarrukh