Happiness is an emotion that takes its root deep within our being. The human body secretes and circulates about 50 different hormones. These hormones include growth hormones, male and female hormones (hormones that produce secondary sexual characteristics in our body), stress hormones, sleep hormones and many others. In fact, hormones are chemical substances that are important in every activity within the human body. Consider hormones to be the magic spell that can change the physiology and behaviour of a person once released into the bloodstream. Happiness is no different.
There are 4 main hormones responsible for our happiness;
- D for Dopamine
- O for Oxytocin
- S for Serotonin
- E for Endorphin
Dopamine – the Reward Hormone
Also known as the pleasure hormone, dopamine is released when we achieve a goal or accomplish a task. That’s why women love shopping. Even drinking cold water on a hot day releases some level of dopamine. It is released while having sex, when we eat the food we crave for and when we partake in an activity we love so much. It is the feel-good neurotransmitter, an essential part of the brain’s reward system.
Dopamine is strongly associated with pleasure and reward though significantly involved in neurological and physiological functions. This important neurochemical boosts mood, motivation, sleep, decision-making, blood flow, digestion, concentration, helps to regulate movement, learning, and emotional responses.
Excess Dopamine effect
There are also bad activities that can release dopamine; watching pornography, gambling, masturbating and taking drugs such as cocaine. Rewarding yourself excessively when no task has been accomplished can produce a habit since one of our brain’s primary task is to make us feel good. However, be discreet about what makes you feel good. Excess dopamine effects include unhealthy addictions, hallucinations, obesity, schizophrenia, mania and delusions.
Nonetheless, dopamine levels needn’t be too low. Dopamine deficiency is equally devastating. Not being in the mood to do anything is one sign. Lack of dopamine can make you sleepy — though not sleeping also lowers your dopamine. Other signs include low energy, lack of focus and motivation, low self-esteem, hopelessness, constipation, aches, disturbed sleeping, muscle cramps, abnormal weight loss or weight gain, and always feeling tired.
How to increase Dopamine levels
Well, first of all you need to know an addiction is anything you do to reward yourself when you’re not in the mood. Our bodies release stress hormones whenever we are low on dopamine, thereby increasing the edge to do something pleasurable. Thus, choose your addictions wisely. Simple ways to increase your dopamine include eating healthily, sleeping well, listening to music, getting a massage and going shopping. Also, learn to reward yourself appropriately when you accomplish tasks.
Oxytocin – the Love Hormone
Oxytocin is called the love hormone because it catalyzes relationships. It’s the happiness we feel within us when we share something dear with another person. Also known as the cuddle hormone, it is that warm fuzzy feeling we feel that lowers stress and anxiety. This explains why the more we share something personal with someone, the more attached we are to them. The more time you spend with your partner, the more oxytocin you produce; the more oxytocin you produce, the more you may desire your partner.
Oxytocin has the power to regulate our emotional responses and pro-social behaviours. It increases the bond between a mother and a child during childbirth and breastfeeding. It is also associated with social recognition, social memory, positive memories, gazing, trust, generosity, empathy, positive communication, fidelity, relationship-building, processing of bonding cues and even sexual behaviour. Oxytocin increases during hugging, giving, cuddling, giving attention, holding hands, shaking hands, playing, sharing, laughing, and when one has a sense of belonging. You can call it the bonding agent.
Excess Oxytocin effect
Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone and the implications of producing excess are still unclear. The problems arise when people who don’t have any serious social deficiencies like autism and schizophrenia take in oxytocin medicine. Excess oxytocin in such people makes them too much sensitive to the emotions of others. It may also encourage favouritism and prejudice. This can lead to the formation of “in” groups and “out” groups. The hormone has also been linked to feelings of envy and dishonesty.
Oxytocin and cortisol (stress hormone) oppose each other in our bodies. When one rises, the other falls. Thus, a deficiency in oxytocin has the same effect as an excess in cortisol. Signs of high cortisol include not sleeping well or waking up tired, weight gain (especially around the abdomen), cravings for unhealthy foods, backaches and headaches, low sex drive, anxiety, and depression.
Do you feel tired even when you’ve not completed any task? Do you feel disconnected in your relationship? You don’t even feel like yourself recently, right? Do you suddenly don’t feel like talking to anyone anymore? It’s like you just don’t have the energy to socialize, n’est pas? Have you walked by people you know and didn’t say hi, not because they annoy you but because you didn’t want to interact? That’s why sometimes when we feel this way, we just hug someone close for no reason.
How to increase Oxytocin levels
Oxytocin is a bonding chemical. Spend time with the ones you love, be goofy with your friends, share something valuable with someone, have a fruitful conversation with another. Laugh, share, help, touch, spread the love. Oxytocin is controlled by a positive feedback mechanism where the release of the hormone causes an action that stimulates more of its own release. It is nature’s way of passing on the love. It is making someone happy because you find happiness in that. At the end of the day, everyone’s happy.
Serotonin – the Calm Hormone
Serotonin is the hormone that is responsible for our emotional stability. It is considered the natural mood stabilizer. It is also present in animals, plants, and fungi. Thus, food is one good source of serotonin. You can’t directly get serotonin from food, but you can get it from tryptophan, an amino acid that’s converted to serotonin in your brain. Serotonin can be produced in the digestive system independent of the serotonin produced in the brain.
Serotonin is associated with mood, sleep, digestion, blood clotting, bone density and sexual function. It makes us feel calmer, happier, more focused, less anxious and more emotionally stable. This hormone is also influencing when, how much, and how well you sleep. It can also influence the frequency and intensity of the sexual feelings you have due to its effects on the body’s libido.
Excess Serotonin Effect
When people use certain recreational drugs, such as ecstasy, the body releases large amounts of serotonin. This can lead to serotonin depletion. Fluctuations of serotonin levels in the brain, which often occur when someone hasn’t eaten or is stressed, affects brain regions that enable people to regulate anger. The old adage was true; a hungry man is an angry man.
Are you sometimes irritated for no reason at all? When serotonin levels are low, it may be more difficult for the brain to control emotional responses to anger. Serotonin deficiency causes anxiety, depressed mood, aggression, impulsive behaviour, insomnia, irritability, low self-esteem, poor appetite, poor memory. Low levels of it also keep you sad and sleepy, yet still causing frequent awakenings during periods of rest. Low levels may also be due to nutritional and vitamin deficiencies. For example, low levels of vitamin B6 and vitamin D have both been linked to decreased levels of serotonin.
How to increase Serotonin levels
Do what you would usually do to lighten up your mood. Go for a walk, listen to your favourite music, opt for a massage, eat some good healthy food, especially those rich in fibre and protein, remember the fun times; those old happy memories, and most importantly, pray. Do you ever feel the burden suddenly lifted when you down on your knees in prayer? You sure have! All such activities calm you down and uplift your mood.
Endorphin – the Willpower Hormone
Contracted from endogenous morphine, endorphins are chemicals produced by the body to relieve stress and pain. It produces a feeling of euphoria that is both healthy and safe, without the risk of addiction and overdose. As an anti-anxiety hormone, it blocks discomfort and makes us excited. When endorphins are released in your body, it gives you the ability to power through any form of pain. That explains the name.
Since humans naturally seek to feel pleasure and avoid pain, we’re more likely to do an activity if it makes us feel good. Endorphins alleviate pain even during childbirth, reduce stress and anxiety, boost self-esteem and reduce excess weight. It is the happy feeling produced when we exercise and feel good about ourselves and our bodies. This phenomenon is known as the runner’s high.
Excess Endorphin Effect
With high endorphin levels, we feel less pain and fewer negative effects of stress. Endorphin is the body’s naturally produced pain killer that is released in relation to the level of pain it’s feeling. Without endorphins, the pain of labour and childbirth would have practically impossible to bear since such pain exceeds a human’s threshold of pain. In such cases, the female body still produces high levels that are both healthy and safe, without the risk of addiction and overdose.
How to increase Endorphin levels
What are your coping mechanisms to get through the pain again? Yes! Eat chocolate, eat your favourite food, create art or music, laugh out loud, watch your favourite show, do what you had always loved to do. This adage was also right. When you do what you love, though it may be really stressful, your body will release just the right amount of endorphins you would need to get through it.
I believe everything in nature was purposefully designed to keep us happy. The beautiful sunrise, drinking water, the cosy weather, having a conversation, the bright flowers, laughing, eating your favourite food, walking out to soak it all in simply make us happy. It’s the simple things in life, to be honest.