What Are The Happy Hormones?
The phrase 'happy hormones' is one that we hear now and again. When people exercise, they often say that it 'boosts their happy hormones,' and when people spend time together, the sense of wellbeing that they get from being close to the ones they care about are often attributed to happy hormones. This is also a phrase we hear in relation to pregnancy and birth, with happy hormones creating that sense of 'glow' that some women experience. But what are happy hormones? Is our happiness really down to our hormones? Can we increase specific hormone levels in order to be happier?
Meet The Happy Hormones
There are a number of hormones that have an impact on our mood and how happy we feel. Let's take a look at our happy hormones and what it all means.
When the body is stressed or experiencing pain, it releases endorphins to combat the unwanted sensations. These are the body's natural painkillers and bring a sense of relief, pleasure, and wellbeing that help to counteract the effects of pain and discomfort. Endorphins are also famously produced by exercise. So when someone talks about 'runner's high' or the sense of euphoria that comes from a good gym workout, they are really talking about the action of endorphins. These feel-good chemicals are also released in response to other rewarding activities such as eating and having sex. They are designed to make you want to repeat these activities because without exercise, eating, and having sex, the human race wouldn't last long.
Dopamine is sometimes referred to as the 'feel-good chemical.' It plays a vital role in the reward center of the brain. It is a chemical messenger or neurotransmitter that sends messages between the brain and the body. The reward center part of the brain is very important; it helps to control what we do by giving us a sensation of pleasure when we do certain things. For example, when we eat a satisfying meal, we feel good. When we work hard to achieve something, we have a sense of pleasure. This happens so that we are keen to repeat the positive action. Otherwise, we would be less likely to work hard or to remember to eat well. Dopamine also plays a key role in how we learn, how we remember things, and even in the functioning of our motor system. It is crucial in enabling us to think, to process information, and to be interested in things. If you have a hobby or something you enjoy doing or learning about, it is because it activates the reward center inside your brain. Dopamine has a significant role to play in why you want to do your hobby again and again; it feels good, and when something feels good, we want to repeat it! For this reason, dopamine also plays a part in addiction, such as substance abuse and addictive behaviors.
This is mostly found in the gut and the brain. It is a chemical that has a major role to play in many of the processes that we just discussed in regard to dopamine; Serotonin helps us learn, think, and remember. It also plays a massive role in regulating some of the most important things we do, including sleep and eating. Serotonin is the happy hormone that is essential for regulating our mood. It is tasked with reducing feelings of depression, calming feelings of anxiety, and keeping the mood balanced and stable. Those who have low levels of serotonin are more likely to experience depression, mood changes, and anxiety.
There are two times when you hear about oxytocin - falling in love (Oxytocin is the happy hormone that is often called the 'love hormone') and parental bonding. This happy hormone is stimulated by touch and closeness; our levels increase when we are physically intimate with someone, such as kissing, hugging, and having sex. Oxytocin levels can largely explain the feel-good sensation that comes with being in love. Likewise, the closeness that we feel to our children, and the sense of protectiveness we feel when it comes to caring for them, are another effect of oxytocin. In women, this hormone stimulates breastfeeding, and in men, it stimulates a sense of family bonding and protectiveness.
How To Boost Feel-Good Chemicals
There are several ways in which you could boost your happy hormones and increase those all-important feel-good chemicals that help offset negative sensations, balance the mood and promote the sense of wellbeing.
Exercise: Arguably, the best sense of wellbeing from the brain's reward center comes from good exercise. This releases endorphins and the sense of achievement stimulates dopamine levels. In fact, researchers have found that regular, rewarding exercise has an incredibly positive impact on mood, combating depression and reducing anxiety.
Healthy Diet: Eating well and ensuring that you get all of the nutrition that your body needs means that the body has enough of the essential components it needs to produce the necessary happy hormones it needs.
Activities: Doing things you enjoy, having hobbies, and engaging in them is so important. When a person neglects to do the things they enjoy, their mood can quickly plummet. When someone is depressed, they often feel unmotivated to do self-care, engage in hobbies or keep up with interests that they once had. This can contribute to low mood and compound the problem.
People: Contact with other people is another thing that increases happy hormones. Chatting with those we find interesting is a rewarding activity and stimulates the production of these happy hormones. Playing games with people, exercising with them, or sharing a meal can be additionally rewarding. Being physically intimate with someone you care about can also help increase feelings of bonding and wellbeing. Humans are social animals, and if you find that you are not able to be physically close with those you care about, then it is vital to maintain social contact through other means.