From the global pandemic to surging inflation, as well as balancing work and life, there’s a lot going on in the world that can contribute to stress and anxiety. But there are also lots of things you can do to keep yourself happy. Listening to your favorite song, watching a movie, catching up with an old friend, keeping a gratitude journal, and getting in some much-needed exercise are great ways to boost your overall mood. While they may seem small compared to the aforementioned problems, these activities can make a huge difference to your day.
And even though turning up the volume on your favorite Harry Styles song won’t change the price of gas, there’s value in keeping yourself happy when you can. Moreover, there are four main hormones in our bodies that trigger feelings of happiness. And each chemical is connected to specific events or rewards. Understanding these chemicals and how they work can help you figure out small ways to feel better during times of stress. Fortunately, founder of the Inner Mammal Institute and author of Habits of a Happy Brain Loretta Breuning has simplified the science so we can all tap into some good feelings.
Almost everything that makes you feel happy is linked to one of the four happiness hormones. Dopamine is associated with motivation and reward. It’s why you feel great when you set an exciting goal and why it feels good to reach that goal. Drinking caffeine and eating sugar tap into that hormone but those are not very healthy options. Instead, try embracing a new goal and take small steps toward it every day. Your brain will reward you with dopamine as you edge closer to the finish line. “The repetition will build a new dopamine pathway that’s big enough to compete with the habits that you’re better off without,” Breuning says.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in keeping yourself happy. But it also helps regulate other functions in your body like digestion and sleep. When it comes to how you feel every day, serotonin plays an important part in reducing depression and regulating anxiety. Confidence generally triggers serotonin. So if you are trapped in a cycle of low self-esteem or have had others undermine your confidence, it can be hard to build it back up. It may sound strange, but don’t ignore your need for respect and status. “You can develop your belief in your own worth,” Breuning says. Try not to focus on your losses which will depress your serotonin. Instead, focus on celebrating your wins – even the small ones.
Commonly known as the “love” hormone, Oxytocin is associated with how people bond and trust each other. Certain activities like intimate physical contact can trigger the release of oxytocin in the brain. That’s why you experience happy feelings when you cuddle your pet or hug your mom. Besides the physical aspect, it’s important to know that there’s an emotional connection to how the chemical is released too. “Social trust is what triggers oxytocin,’ Breuning explains. “If you hug someone you don’t trust, it doesn’t feel good because trust comes first. You can build social trust by taking small positive steps toward people.”
Endorphins are last on the list and are notoriously linked with exercise. It’s the phenomenon that explains the runner’s high or post-workout rush. The chemical also serves as a natural painkiller that can help minimize pain and maximize pleasure. But you don’t have to run a million miles to keep yourself happy. Laughter is another great way to boost endorphins naturally. Eating dark chocolate, watching your favorite television show, working out (in moderation), and meditating also tap into the hormone in a good way.
So when you feel like the world is a little hard to bare, turn off the news, put away your smart device, and try out some of these tips. They may not solve all your problems, but they will make you happy for a little while.