Most of us say we want to experience more happiness, joy and contentment in our lives. And then often find happiness elusive and hard to sustain. Understanding how our hormones work and what triggers them, enables us to use them to our advantage and create new, healthy happiness habits.
There are four hormones which keep us feeling happy, satisfied, connected and moving forward: Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin & Endorphins. These hormones have played a huge part in how we have survived as a species. They helped us to feel good when we were doing something that contributed to our survival, encouraging us to seek more of the same. For example the surge of oxytocin we felt when bonding with our tribe, the hit of dopamine when we found a source of food or water, the release of endorphins that masked the pain of an injury so we could escape from a predator etc.
Each time these happiness hormones flow, we create and strengthen new neural pathways in our brain. These help us to seek out these experiences again in order to feel good. They become habitual. However, as most of our neural pathways are formed by the time we are 7 years old, the way we are hardwired to trigger these hormones may no longer serve us.
When we are in stress or living in 'survival' it is our instinctual reaction to stick with what we know. This causes us to play it safe and to look for those hits of happiness where we have found them before, even if that is in the form of an unhealthy habit. When this happens the flow of the happiness hormone is short lived and can soon be replaced with feelings of guilt and disappointment.
The good news is, when we understand why we are doing the things we do and what the payoff is, we can learn to hack our hormones and start to create new, healthy happiness habits. Triggering and maintaining a healthy ebb and flow of these hormones and using them in a way that serves us. And the more we strengthen them, the easier it becomes.
Dopamine - The Feel Good Hormone
Dopamine is the feel good hormone, a type of neural transmitter which is essentially our chemical reward system. It alerts our attention to things that meet our needs. Its that good feeling when you achieve something, complete a task or make progress. It is the hormone that motivates us and drives us forward. Activating pleasure, memory, learning and motor function.
A great way to help create new, healthy dopamine habits its to embrace a new goal that serves you and take small steps towards it every day. Keep the tasks small and achievable. Each time you complete one your brain releases dopamine and strengthens a new neural pathway. The more you strengthen this pathway easier and more habitual the behaviour becomes. Helping it to compete with and overcome those dopamine habits that don't serve you. Like taking a new path through the woods, when you choose a new pathway its hard going at first. You have to fight your way through the weeds and foliage. However the more you walk it, the easier it becomes. And soon the path you used to take becomes overgrown.
Serotonin - The Mood Regulator
Serotonin is the 'mood regulator'. It is a hormone with many functions and aids us with things like sleep, digestion, appetite, memory and our ability to learn. This hormone is triggered when we feel respected by others and it evolved for our survival purposes as a reward for social dominance.
We can boost our serotonin levels in a way that is healthy and sustainable by focusing on positives as opposed to negatives. When we feel confident and worthy in ourselves we naturally expect and have faith that others will respect us. If we build the habit of focusing on our wins, being grateful for the things we have and feeling proud of the things we have achieved we will naturally boost the flow of serotonin in a healthy, sustainable way. - This is why people stress how important a gratitude practice can be!
Oxytocin - The Love Hormone
Oxytocin is the love hormone that promotes bonding, trust and empathy. Its that good feeling when you connect with colleagues, loved ones or even that stranger who smiles at you in the street. Oxytocin drives our desire to collaborate and is one of the reasons we have excelled as a species.
When someone breaks our trust, its bad for our 'survival'. This releases negative hormones which teach our brain when we should mistrust in the future. Mistrust limits the flow of oxytocin in the body. We can increase the flow of this hormone by creating new, easily achievable ways to rebuild that trust with yourself as well others. It could be something as simple as showing up on your meditation cushion each day, even if just for 60 seconds. Each time you do this you strengthen the oxytocin circuits in the brain allowing the hormones to flow with ease.
Endorphins - Natural Pain Reliever
Endorphins are our natural pain relievers. Its that feeling of euphoria or that 'runners high'. This hormone is usually triggered when our body is under stress and its not healthy for us to have it surging through our body all the time (it would probably encourage us to do things like touch something hot or push our bodies to a point of harm). However, in small doses it aids in reducing our stress levels, warding off anxiety and depression, improving our sleep, boosting our self esteem and increasing and encouraging our physical activeness.
To trigger this hormone in a healthy way you could work out or go for a run. When you exercise you put your body under stress so you release endorphins to cope. Regular exercise can help your body to release a healthy flow of endorphins into your body. Also, when people say 'laugh until it hurts' they mean it. Genuine laughter releases endorphins into the body to increase the pain threshold.
There are so many ways we can work to increase and maintain a healthy ebb and flow of these hormones. These are just a few. There are also many somatic practices we can do daily which support us in boosting our happiness levels such as EFT. More on that next week!
If you'd like to learn more and you want to really kickstart living in joy, join us for our free webinar The Happiness Experiment on 8th April @ 8pm! Learn practical and applicable ways to create the FEELING sustainable contentment and joy with physical practices to help you embody it! Let's create a foundation for our well being and increase our capacity to enjoy our lives. Sign up here!
Can't make the live webinar? No worries! Register anyway and there will be a replay link available for 48 hours after the event!