What are Happiness Chemicals?
“When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy .’They told me I didn’t understand the assignment,and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
~John Lennon, Singer, Founder of Beatles
Your brain is the most complex organ in your body and arguably the most important. Can you afford a brain that is not performing to the best of its ability in this modern age of information? The brain needs to be happy to be able to work to fulfill its potential. Happiness is one of the things we desire most in our lives, so why would you deny yourself the chance to educate yourself into joy? Happiness is one of the strongest motivating forces in life and can add up to 19.5 years to the average lifespan. What if you knew how to increase positive emotions and feel happier, more at ease, more content, and more aroused?
The condition of your brain controls how you feel on a day-to-day basis. Are you happy?
Did you know that many chemicals are being produced in our brains that directly influence the way we feel and how we experience emotions? Happy chemicals are controlled by tiny brain structures that all mammals have in common: the hippocampus, amygdala, pituitary, hypothalamus, and other parts collectively known as the limbic system. Your brain rewards you with good feelings when you do something good for your survival. Each of the happy chemicals motivates a different type of survival behavior.
The feeling we call “happiness” comes from four special brain chemicals: dopamine, endorphin, oxytocin, and serotonin. These “happy chemicals” spurt when your brain sees something good for your survival. Then they turn off, ready to spurt again when something good crosses your path. Each happy chemical triggers a different good feeling.
4 Happiness Chemicals And How To Hack Them
1 Dopamine: Dopamine produces the joy of finding what you seek–the “Eureka! I got it!” feeling. It is mainly responsible for motivating you to achieve something. It enhances the competitive zeal in us and pushes us to face challenges. Dopamine surges each time you get the reward you seek. Dopamine improves your cognition and mood. When the blood flow is regulated from the arteries, this neurotransmitter helps increase cognitive functioning and improve your mood.
Dopamine regulates the hormone secretion from the pituitary gland responsible for controlling the development of the brain. It, therefore, enhances the learning capability of your brain. Dopamine motivates you to get what you need, even when it takes effort.
2 Endorphin: Endorphin produces the oblivion that masks pain– often called “euphoria.” It is responsible for calming down a person by reducing pain and stress. Endorphin motivates you to ignore pain so you can escape harm when you’re injured. A lack of endorphins in our brains can lead to psychiatric disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder and eating disorders. Endorphin is called the body’s “natural morphine.”
The truth is the opposite: morphine is an artificial endorphin. Opium derivatives, like heroin, make you high because they fit into the body’s natural endorphin receptors. When you exercise, you tend to feel a sense of relaxation through the endorphins that release energy in your brain to relax after you have gone through a stressful workout session.
Endorphins play a vital role in the brain, which is why increased levels of endorphins by the hypothalamus, a part of the brain, help in reducing and eliminating pain. The endorphins released in your brain are a reason to laugh a bit more. They help to decrease stress and to promote laughter and well-being.
3 Serotonin: Serotonin produces the feeling of being respected by others–”pride.” It is one of the most favorable neurotransmitters in our body, and serotonin motivates you to get respect, which expands your mating opportunities and protects your offspring. It is the happiness molecule that helps in enhancing an optimistic mood. Getting respect feels good because it triggers serotonin. The good feeling motivates you to seek more respect, which promotes survival.
A lack of serotonin in our brains might cause depression, feelings of unhappiness, and discontent with what we do in our lives. However, the symptoms are different for men and women. For example, women may experience sudden mood disorders along with a carb craving, while men tend to become impulsive and are found to consume excessive alcohol. This happy mood-enhancing neurotransmitter plays a vital role in the human brain by making a person happy and active.
4 Oxytocin: Oxytocin produces the feeling of being safe with others– now called “bonding.” When you have a good feeling about someone, oxytocin causes it. Oxytocin flows when you feel you can trust a person or enjoy their trust in you. The sense of belonging and of safety in numbers is oxytocin too. Oxytocin motivates you to trust others, to find safety in companionship.
Social trust improves survival prospects, and it feels good. The brain motivates you to build social bonds by rewarding them with a good feeling, thus promoting survival. While trust feels good, betrayed trust feels awful. The bad feeling of disappointment motivates mammals to decide carefully when to trust and when to withhold it. Over time, you “know who your friends are” because your neurochemicals react to individuals as “good for your survival” or “bad for your survival.”
How To Hack Our Happy Chemicals
Your feelings are unique. You have unique ways to turn on your happy chemicals because you built neural pathways from your unique life experience. When something made you feel good as a child, the happy chemical built connections. When something felt terrible, your unhappy chemicals seared that information, too. You can build new trails through your jungle of neurons, which can turn on your happy chemicals in new ways.
When your unhappy chemicals flow, you don’t usually respond by thanking them for promoting your survival. Instead, you focus on ways to trigger happy chemicals. For example, when hunger triggers a bad feeling, you seek food. When cold triggers a bad feeling, you seek warmth. Finding food and warmth triggers happy chemicals before eating or warming up.
Happy chemicals flow when you see a way to meet your needs. Unhappy chemicals are the brain’s way of alerting us to such risks. Unhappy chemicals feel bad because that works. It gets your attention fast. It’s comforting to know that bad feeling have a purpose.
Bad feelings are produced by cortisol. Your cortisol response depends on what it’s paired with. When you feel a cortisol alert, your brain looks for a way to make it stop. Sometimes the solution is obvious, like pulling your hand off a hot stove. But bad feelings don’t always have apparent causes.
And they don’t always have obvious cures. Such feelings keep commanding your attention with the sense that you must “do something.” Your brain keeps scanning the world for a way to make bad feelings stop. That “do something” feeling promotes survival, but it also causes trouble. It motivates us to do anything that prevents the cortisol, and when something changes unhappy chemicals to happy chemicals, your brain learns from the experience.
Happiness Chemicals And How To Hack Them In The Bible
One of the most exciting secrets that can be discovered in the Bible is the secret to a happy life through the fear of the Lord. If they are honest, most people will acknowledge that they want to experience a genuinely happy life. How many books have been written about happiness? How much money has been spent on trying to buy happiness? How many relationships have people gone through in search of happiness?
People throughout history have tried everything under the sun to find and hold onto that elusive state of true and enduring human happiness, only to find themselves unhappy again and again and again. There is a fundamental reason that true and genuine happiness is so hard to find and experience. Happiness is actually a by-product of something else.
You cannot find happiness directly like you go out and find a good deal on a car, clothing, or a home. You cannot try to focus on being happy (mentally or emotionally) and expect to wake up happy every day. It won’t work. So, what is the biblical secret to happiness? True and lasting happiness can only be reached through a spirit of gratefulness. Happiness is a by-product of a grateful soul.
If you become a grateful person, you will become a happy person. The degree of your gratefulness will dictate the degree of your happiness. Have you ever read Proverbs 15:13 (Nkjv)? It says, “A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance.” A paraphrase could read, “A grateful heart makes a happy face.” Proverbs 17:22 (NKJV) says, “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.”
A paraphrase could read, “A grateful heart does good like medicine.” It is vital to see God is trying to help us understand how a grateful heart benefits the body physically as well as helping the mind to be happy. In an article (Better Homes and Gardens, July 21, 1993) titled “Laugh Your Way to Good Health,” Nick Gallo observed what Solomon wrote about a merry heart thousand of years ago. “Humor is good medicine and can help keep you in good health.” He quoted William F. Fry, MD, who describes laughter as “inner jogging” and says it’s good for a person’s cardiovascular system.
Comparing laughter to exercise, Gallo pointed out that several physical benefits occur when a person laughs heartily. There is a temporary lowering of blood pressure, a decreased rate of breathing, and a reduction in muscle tension. Many people sense a “relaxed afterglow.” He concluded, “An enduring sense of humor, especially combined with other inner resources, such as faith and optimism, appears to be a potent force for better health.”
Mr. Gallo would almost certainly agree that a grateful spirit could be added to the list of inner resources that bring a blessing to our physical bodies and an enduring sense of humor, faith, and optimism. A happy mind is a by-product of a grateful spirit. One of the mechanisms of measuring our own level of happiness is comparing ourselves to others. Sometimes it is a kind of therapy, especially when we face some, worse than ever, situations such as illness or another affliction. The feeling of uncertainty, which accompanies this experience, increases our need to compare our situations to others.
Happiness Requires a ‘Shift’ in Thinking
Everyone is looking for happiness all around them, not knowing where it is. But if one becomes aware and shifts their attention to the right strategies and factors to achieve satisfaction, it’s within everyone’s reach and way quicker than one thinks. In our search for happiness, we primarily look at external factors and believe that our happiness solely depends on them. But in reality, it’s only when we redesign and rewire our brains differently that joy starts to surround us most of the time when we build happier brains.
Let’s Look Inside the Happiest Brain
We all have seen happy people around us at times, though they are not plentiful these days. How do they look? They often have a slight smile on their faces, or sometimes a huge ear-to-ear smile; other times, they may chuckle or giggle or laugh heartily, usually while playing with kids or having a great time with family and friends over dinner or drinks.
Do you want to see how a happier brain looks on the inside?
Why not look inside the brain of a person who has often been referred to as the “happiest person in the world”? Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk with a French Ph.D. in molecular genetics and, eventually, the right-hand man for the Dalai Lama, had been the subject of intensive clinical tests at the University of Wisconsin; as a result of which he is frequently described as the happiest man in the world. If you just Google “happiest person in the world,” his name will pop up instantly.
The psychologist Dr. Daniel Goleman describes how a three-hour wait at an airport “sped by in minutes due to the sheer pleasure of Matthieu’s orbit,” as he exudes a sense of tranquillity, kindness, and — surprisingly enough — humor. In 2012, as part of his research, neuroscientist Richard Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (and reported as one of the “The 100 Most Influential People in the world” by Time Magazine) and his team wired up the monk’s skull with 256 sensors and conducted hours of continuous MRI scanning as a part of research study on hundreds of advanced practitioners of meditation about the impact of meditation on the human brain.
The scans showed that when meditating, Ricard’s brain produces a level of gamma waves — those linked to consciousness, attention, learning, and memory — ‘never reported before in the neuroscience literature, as per Neuroscientist Davidson. Gamma waves are associated with the “feeling of blessings” and create a state of peak concentration and high levels of cognitive functioning. Neuroscientists believe that gamma waves can link information from all parts of the brain. Brain scans reveal that this French monk has an ‘abnormally large capacity for joy. The scans showed excessive activity in his brain’s left prefrontal cortex compared to its right counterpart, giving him a tremendous capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity towards negativity.
As you can see, the joy and happiness inside his brain didn’t come from external factors; instead, it was all his inside programming through meditation and other lifestyle changes. Ricard attributes the reasons for his extreme happiness level to his deep meditation practices. Practicing meditation plays a vital role in improving an individual’s overall well-being. Ricard claims that after regular practice for just one month, an individual will see benefits such as a reduction in the stress level and an increase in their general well-being. But you and I don’t need to turn into monks to experience an elevated level of joy.
By understanding the psychology and neuroscience of happiness and implementing some simple habits, we can design a much happier brain that can empower us to experience higher dimensions and lead a quality life.
“Very little is needed to make a happy life. It is all within YOURSELF in your way of thinking.
~ Marcus Aurelius
History Of Happiness Chemicals And How To Hack Them
Man has pondered how to achieve happiness since the beginning of time. Happiness has been the topic of discussion since the Ancient Greek period. There have been two broad aspects or concepts of happiness. They are Hedonia (a Greek word meaning ‘a condition of pleasure’ or cheerfulness) and Eudaimonia (a Greek word meaning ‘human flourishing or prosperity’: a sense that life is well-lived).
Aristippus, a Greek philosopher from the 4th century BC, claimed that happiness was the sum of life’s hedonic moments. Hedonic enjoyment is a state whereby an individual feels relaxed, has a sense of distance from their problems, and can be said to feel ‘happy’ (Ryan & Deci, 2001). Hedonism advocates that a happy life is all about maximized emotions of pleasure and minimized pain. A happy person is very cheerful and smiles a lot, with many intense episodes of joy and very few pain episodes. On the other hand, another Greek philosopher, Aristotle, argued that because of man’s unique capacity to reason, pleasure alone could not achieve happiness — because animals are driven to seek pleasure, and man has greater power than animals.
Eudaimonic theories of happiness argue that rather than the pursuit of joy, happiness results from the development of individual strengths and virtues. In striving for happiness, the most important factor is for a person to have ‘complete virtue’ — in other words, to have good moral character. Eudaimonia was, according to Aristotle, “activity expressing virtue” that will, therefore, lead to a happy life.
Therefore, happiness encompasses two inseparable aspects: hedonia (pleasure of the senses and positive affect) and eudaimonia (pleasure of reason: living well and doing well, cognitive appraisals of meaning, and life satisfaction). During our times, or what we define as modern history, there has been in-depth research, study, and analysis of the psychology of happiness. This has led to the development of various scientific theories of happiness. As a matter of fact, these different theories of happiness have undergone a transformation over the past few years.
Authentic Happiness to Well Being
In his 2002 book, Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman said that there are three distinct orientations of happiness, namely: (1) the Pleasant Life or pleasures, (2) the Good Life or engagement, and (3) the Meaningful Life. While the first two criteria are subjective in nature, the third is at least partly objective and examines what is more meaningful than merely catering to the self’s pleasures and desires.
While the three orientations of happiness was a decent theory, in less than ten years, in 2011, Seligman gave three orientations to happiness and revealed his new model, known as PERMA. This added two new dimensions to the earlier three orientations of happiness: namely, Accomplishment and Positive Relationships.
PERMA is also known as the well-being theory, with well-being, not happiness, the key focus of positive psychology. In contrast, happiness is the key focus area in the authentic happiness theory.
The theory comprises five core elements, with each playing a role in well-being:
P – Positive Emotions: It’s about feeling good, optimism, pleasure, and enjoyment.
E – Engagement: This is based on the premise that happiness arises from fulfilling work, exciting hobbies, and flow.
R – Relationships: Social connections, love, intimacy, and emotional and physical connection increase happiness.
M – Meaning: Having a purpose and finding meaning in life is essential.
A – Accomplishments: Ambitions, realistic goals, significant achievements, and pride in yourself contribute to contentment.
One must strive to meet the requirements of all five elements of PERMA to achieve the optimal state of well-being. This engagement aspect of the PERMA model was also researched in detail by another psychologist, the co-founder of positive psychology Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and he named it ‘Flow .’He states: “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times. The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” Csikszentmihalyi wrote the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, wherein he concluded that happiness is an internal state of being and not an external one.
In this book, he mentions that one’s happiness level can be significantly enhanced by introducing flow into whatever we do. Csikszentmihalyi described eight characteristics of someone who is in the state of flow:
- Complete concentration on the task
- Clarity of goals, keeping the reward in mind, and immediate feedback
- Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down)
- Experience is intrinsically rewarding
- Effortlessness and ease
- Balance between challenge and skills
- Merged actions and awareness; loss of self-conscious rumination
- Feeling of control over the task
There are two broad aspects or concepts of happiness: Hedonia(i.e., all about maximized emotions of pleasure and minimized pain) and Eudaimonia (i.e., happiness results from the development and expression of individual strengths and virtues). Instead of focusing solely on the pleasures of life, we need to also focus on leaving a life of meaning. We need to reclaim the truth that our desire for happiness is God-given and that Jesus is the way to happiness.
We need to reclaim the meanings of numerous biblical words that speak to us of happiness. We need to join God in transforming His church through the joy He intended for us to enjoy. God knows that all people desire happiness. And He wants them to know that the happiness they seek is found in a relationship with Him.
“Your long-term happiness and fulfillment depend on your ability to fulfill your soul’s unique purpose and to fill the place in the world that only you can fill, making the contribution that only you can make.”
~ Rod Stryker