What makes us happy? More importantly, what keeps us happy? A single event or experience can create the feeling of joy but something drives us to continue to feel joy. Otherwise, we would be content to feel joy only once in our lives. What if I told you we can program our brains to deliver happiness on a regular basis? The happiness or sadness we feel is a conditioned response over time. That’s not to say I hold the secret to instantly feeling happy after a tragic event, but there is science behind moving ourselves toward recovery. The secret lies in the reward center of the brain.
The reward center of the brain is designed to trigger repeat behaviors. A habit is an action or behavior centered on a craving set in motion by a trigger and anchored by a reward. The reward is what keeps the cycle going. The brain isn’t necessarily our friend, but if we understand it we can turn it into an ally. The reward center of the brain triggers the production of biochemicals that say do it again. The “it” can be running a marathon or eating a gallon of ice cream. Unfortunately, the brain doesn’t distinguish if the action serves us or not.
Ready to learn how biochemicals work and how you can take control of your reward center to bring about more happiness in your life? We thought so. There are four main biochemicals associated with happiness. They are dopamine, endorphin, oxytocin and serotonin. The reward center of the brain uses these chemicals to encourage you to repeat behaviors that feel good.
Dopamine – You Got This
Dopamine is released when you are just in sight of a goal. For example, if you’re running a marathon you feel a rush as the finish line comes into sight. The best display of a dopamine rush is the touchdown dance. Scientists believe that dopamine was important to encourage hunting for food. This isn’t unique to humans, by the way. The neurotransmitter tells the brain to keep reaching for goals regardless of being tired because when the goal is achieved the reward feels so good. When prehistoric man went hunting for food and got a kill the release of dopamine is what drove them to do it again. The more you accomplish, the more addicted to dopamine you become. This hormone is extremely helpful to staying on track with exercise or weight loss goals. The best way to trigger it is to celebrate. When you finish a workout or anything healthy you should take a few seconds to celebrate the win. The dopamine release will signal the brain to repeat that behavior. The converse is true, if you fail don’t dwell on the failure – that ironically also signals the brain to do it again. In the event of failure simply acknowledge it, course correct and move on.
Endorphin – Runner’s High
Have you ever heard of runner’s high? If not, the gist is after a certain amount of time a runner begins to feel euphoric almost high. That is our good friend endorphins. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that you have to experience physical pain to release endorphins. Seems very unfair. So endorphin is a little tricky but helpful nonetheless. This neurotransmitter is designed to ease pain temporarily so you can focus and escape what is causing pain or danger. In the event that you are unable to escape the pain the endorphin acts as mask until the pain stimulate is over most likely resulting in death. Also called nature’s euthanasia, endorphin is meant to make unbearable pain bearable. Enough of the dark stuff – doesn’t seem like a happiness drug. In a sense, it is because it’s the body’s natural morphine. And morphine can create a euphoric high. Endorphin can also be released by laughing or crying. When you laugh so hard you cry, you actually confuse the neurotransmitter and you may get an extra dose of endorphin. For some reason, the body registers laughter as physical distress. This is why laughter is so good for us. But you have to really laugh, faking it doesn’t release endorphin because the body knows better. So watch something funny or spend time with a humorous friend when you are in need of dulling your pain.
Oxytocin – The Hug Hormone
Do you remember the last time you got the warm fuzzies for someone? You connected with them and wanted to see them again. This doesn’t have to be romantic, it can be pure friendship. You had a feeling of trust or admiration for them. This is oxytocin at work. The purpose of oxytocin is to encourage you to seek out connection and groups. This can be seen in animals. Oxytocin is what causes them to live in herds and groups. When one of the group can’t be seen it releases cortisol causing stress. When the missing member returns oxytocin is released. It stands to reason that we are happiest when we are around others. This is even true for introverts. Touch can also stimulate the production of oxytocin. The cool thing about this biochemical is that it is also necessary for trust and safety which is important for survival. When part of the group doesn’t trust they are likely to be left out of the group. If you find yourself a bit of an outsider, ask yourself if you trust the others in the group. If not, this may explain why oxytocin hasn’t worked its magic. But when you’re feeling down connecting with someone else and having a good laugh will get you moving in the right direction.
Serotonin – R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Find Out What It Means To Me
You know that feeling you get when others look up to you or come to you for guidance? That is serotonin. This biochemical is all about seeking respect from those around us. Not to be confused with approval. Serotonin is designed to help you fit into a group by being someone that others can rely on. By not acting in a way to get cast out of the group we are ensuring our survival. It also drives us to seek security and safety. That security or safety can be in the form of food, money, family, friends, etc. The more of it we have the more of it we want. A lack of serotonin can lead to clinical depression, the overwhelming feeling of doom and sadness. A good way to keep your serotonin levels up is to get plenty of sleep, exercise and feed your body right. The downside to serotonin is this is the same biochemical that is released if we overeat or emotionally eat. That is the reason we continue to eat when we feel sad or anxious.
While these biochemicals don’t necessarily create happiness they do reward us for the moments that make us happy leading us to want more. Now that you know the secret to these chemicals you can use this information to help program your brain. In short:
- When you need more dopamine complete a task or goal then celebrate;
- To get more endorphin you need to genuinely laugh;
- For oxytocin hug someone, hang out with a group, or call a friend;
- If you need a sense of security or safety do something to get your resources in order such as balance your checkbook or fill the fridge with healthy food.
Although it may not seem like it, we have more control over our brain than we know. By doing these simple tasks the reward center of our brain will help us program the desire for happiness. Did you find this helpful? If so, please share, mention #BlackEVEolution, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Google+. We know you’re looking for more great content like this. Connect with us now to receive original and informative content that will help you be healthy, wealthy, wise and woke.