Although we’re arguably more connected and comfortable than ever before, happiness still feels more elusive than ever for many people. Here we take a look at why this might be and share tips inspired by science and integrative health insights to help you balance your mood the holistic way without invasive therapies or pharmaceutical drugs.
Introducing the happiness hormones
Before we explore the happiness hacks, first we need to take a look at what these hormones are, and what they do.
Dopamine: A neurotransmitter responsible for our motivation, pleasure and stamina. Dopamine plays a key role in the learning process and enables us to have the determination to identify and satisfy basic needs, execute and complete tasks and accomplish goals and desires.
Oxytocin: Known as the bonding hormone, Oxytocin is released during childbirth, breastfeeding and sexual contact. Oxytocin is the hormone of love, intimacy, empathy and compassion – think warm, fuzzy feelings.
Serotonin: Arguably the most well-known happiness hormone, serotonin regulates mood and stabilizes sleep. Insufficient levels of serotonin are behind conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Endorphins: Endorphins are the euphoric hormones of excitement and pleasure. Released during exercise, sex and even when eating favorite foods, endorphins help us to cope with pain and stress.
These hormones are all produced naturally, but sometimes we can experience deficiencies that leave us feeling deflated, down or lacking motivation. The good news is that they can also be boosted naturally – meaning there are simple things you can do to up-level these hormones when you’re not feeling your best.
5 ways to hack your happiness hormones
1/ Food and drink
Certain foods can positively and negatively influence our happiness hormones. For example, excessive amounts of sugar and alcohol can deplete hormone levels and cause imbalances and deficiencies.
For dopamine balance, try foods high in L-Tyrosine like yogurt, chicken, fish and turkey. Nutrients such as magnesium, zinc and b vitamins are all essential for healthy brain function. Meanwhile, foods high in amino acid Tryptophan are essential for serotonin production – find this in nuts and seeds, egg yolks, organic chicken and ripe tomatoes. For a quick endorphin boost on the go when needed, try a few squares of dark chocolate.
2/ Keep it moving
Ever experienced that post-exercise positivity – an intense burst of good energy you can’t shake? This after-workout high isn’t all in your head – it’s a result of the rush of chemicals which keep you motivated and coming back for more even after the most gruelling training session. Physical activity is one of the easiest and quickest ways to boost endorphins – especially if it’s something you enjoy like dance or yoga.
All forms of exercise are beneficial to body and mind – but if you have a specific goal in terms of hacking happiness hormones, certain activities may be better than others. Yoga in particular was shown in one study to increase dopamine when practiced for 6 hours per week, whilst in another HIIT and intense cardio training resulted in the highest endorphin levels amongst participants.
3/ Get outside
For those with a 9-5 getting enough sunlight, even during summer months, can prove difficult. Sunlight is essential for the synthesis of dopamine, as well as Vitamin D which is crucial for regulating serotonin levels. Try to get outside for at least 30 minutes per day – even if the sun isn’t shining. Studies show that walking in nature is most beneficial, supporting a brighter mood and a calmer mind.
4/ Get touchy feely
Physical touch is one of the best ways to uplevel oxytocin – so if you’re feeling frazzled and crave sugar, processed carbs or addictive substances, seeking out some contact with human (or furry) companions can help. Hugs are an easy way to boost oxytocin levels – but stroking a pet or 15 minutes of massage works just as well. We can also improve both oxytocin and endorphin levels through sexual intimacy.
5/ Have fun
Doing the things we love and enjoy has an impact on a number of our happiness hormones – dopamine and endorphins in particular. Listening to music has been shown to boost dopamine levels, whilst hobbies and volunteering can support healthy endorphin levels.
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