Brain Chemicals that make you Happy
We’ve learned a lot about brain chemicals these last few decades. Your brain can feel naturally great if you can optimize your DOSE of these:
DOPAMINE is used in the brain to mediate things like movement, thought, memory and, most importantly, pleasure: enjoying conversations, strawberries, movies, sex, sunshine, or smiles. Dopamine pleasure helps you learn, adapt and survive. Made in the ventral tegmental area and experienced in the nucleus accumbens, it’s the chemical driver of the brain’s reward pathway. Too much dopamine without effort, however, and you can get addicted (to cocaine, gambling, and the internet, not to strawberries or sunshine).
Nature keeps pleasure linked to purpose: pleasure tastes are linked to foods’ nutrition, sexual pleasure is linked to off-spring and keeping a relationship together, the pleasure of good conversation is linked to getting on with people. They’re all linked to individual and collective survival.
To keep the right amount of dopamine flowing in your brain, follow nature and link pleasure and purpose:
Have after-work drinks on Friday night not Monday morning.
Do the study assignment before enjoying the internet.
Have a holiday after a work year.
Work first, play later as a reward.
OXYTOCIN is the “love-drug,” the “hug-drug.” It’s made in the brain’s hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland to mediates feelings of love and connection. Birthing suites are full of oxytocin: it’s the signal to start the birthing process and it mediates a mother’s experience of strong joy and love.
It’s released in relationships. Attraction is mediated by sex hormones, but moving to attachment (maybe we belong together) is mediated by oxytocin. From lovers in love kissing to strangers shaking hands in trust, that lovin’ feeling is mediated by oxytocin.
To get oxytocin flowing in your brain, take care of relationships: family, friends, colleagues and even with strangers. Share an encouraging word, a touch, a smile or a hug, to increase oxytocin for yourself and the other person. Connect with others for more feel-good oxytocin.
SEROTONIN in the brain mediates feelings of calm, content and chill, I’m at home. It’s an antidote to a world of stress, disconnect and loneliness. Made in the raphe nuclei of the brainstem, it also regulates appetite, sleep (in the pineal gland it is converted to melatonin), learning, and thinking. In the gut it mediates digestive movements.
Serotonin-enhancing medication is used to combat anxiety and depression; but you can increase serotonin naturally by deep-breathing, communing with nature, watching a sunset, or talking to a friend. Take time, relax, chill, make yourself at home. Also make someone else feel at home. Raising serotonin like this helps combat depression, anxiety and loneliness.
ENDORPHINS are the brain’s pain-killers; they work like morphine. Endo means inside and you know that morphine relieves pain. Endo + morphin = endorphin. There are many endorphins inside the brain, but beta endorphins, produced in the pituitary gland, act as feel-good pain-killers.
Sure, endorphins are released in the “runner’s high” but they are also released with laughter, tears, being part of an audience of contagious emotions, and while singing or playing music with others. It’s their while playing games, sports and doing anything with others. Connection with people is important, so nature dampens down pain so we continue to connect. “Flow” with other people to keep beta endorphin flowing in your brain.
The thing about a DOSE of these four brain chemicals – Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin & Endorphin – is that they are all released when we’re enjoying being with people. Being with people you like, love and trust brings pleasure, connection, calm and “flow.”
For pleasurable Dopamine link pleasure, purpose and people;
For love-drug Oxytocin connect with people in trust or love;
For calming Serotonin relax and unwind with people;
For pain-relieving Endorphin laugh, play and share with people.
That’s why relationships are your greatest assets; getting on with people gives you the best D.O.S.E. of feel-good brain chemicals.
 Dunbar, Robin IM, et al. "Performance of music elevates pain threshold and positive affect: implications for the evolutionary function of music." Evolutionary Psychology 10.4 (2012): 147470491201000403.
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