If there is one aspiration that unites all humans, it is happiness. Every person, irrespective of their gender, race, religion, education, standard of living, status, nationality – wants to be happy. And happiness is the sum total of how one feels about oneself, others and world in general. Since happiness is felt, it rides on emotions – their quality and intensity. Emotions that we feel are regulated by chemicals secreted in our glands called hormones. Hormones are our body’s chemical messengers. Once released by glands into your bloodstream, they act on various organs and tissues to control everything from the way your body functions to how you feel. And today, we know that there are largely four hormones which are responsible for this feel good’ factor in us. The four together contribute to the happy and, sometimes, euphoric feelings they produce. They’re also considered neurotransmitters, which means they carry messages across the spaces between nerve cells. The four feel-good hormones are Dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin. This means everything the happiness we ‘feel’ depends on whether these four hormones are secreted in balanced levels.
- Oxytocin: This hormone that gives us a felling of ‘falling in love’ with a partner and want to become a parent. Its induced by touch- when we’re excited by our sexual partner, when we cuddle with our child. That’s why it has earned the nicknames, “love hormone” and “cuddle hormone.” Its administered to expectant mothers during delivery to increase the uterine contractions. After delivery, it helps in moving of the milk and fostering the parent-child bond. A promising way to boost oxytocin naturally is with exercise. Music also seems to have the ability to increase oxytocin levels, especially when people sing in a group, which adds the element of bonding. Just the simple act of touch seems to boost oxytocin release. Giving someone a massage, cuddling, making love, or giving someone a hug leads to higher levels of this hormone and a greater sense of well-being.
- Dopamine can provide an intense feeling of pleasure as part of the brain’s reward system. We understand today the relationship between dopamine and cravings. From social media to binge-watching web series, from fatty foods to sugary foods, from intoxication to caffeine – all of these are dopamine inducing behaviours — all these things can trigger dopamine release or a “dopamine rush.” This feel-good neurotransmitter is also involved in reinforcement. That’s why, once we try one of those chocolate cookies, we might come back for another one (or two, or three). The darker side of dopamine is the intense feeling of reward people feel when they take drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, which can lead to addiction. Dopamine also plays a role in learning and attention, mood movement, heart rate, kidney function, blood vessel function, sleep, pain processing and lactation.
- Serotonin: When you feel happy and all seems right with the world, you’re feeling the effects of serotonin. This hormone is responsible for boosting mood, as well as a host of other functions. Serotonin can stave off depression and provide a feeling of euphoria. An area in the centre of the brainstem produces serotonin, which then acts on many different parts of the brain to affect a variety of functions and behaviours, including memory, fear, the stress response, digestion, addiction, sexuality, sleep, and breathing and body temperature. One natural way to increase serotonin is by working out. When you pedal your bicycle or lift weights, your body releases more tryptophan, the amino acid your brain uses to make serotonin. This boost in serotonin (along with other endorphins and other neurotransmitters) is why many people get that feeling of euphoria known as a “runner’s high” after an intense workout.
- Endorphins: Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers. Endorphins are released by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in response to pain or stress, this group of peptide hormones both relieves pain and creates a general feeling of well-being. Endorphins can also release stress and create a feeling of well-being. The name of these hormones comes from the term “endogenous morphine.” “Endogenous” because they’re produced in our bodies. Morphine refers to the opioid painkiller whose actions they mimic. About 20 different types of endorphins exist. The best-studied of these is beta-endorphin, which is the one associated with the runner’s high. We also release endorphins when we laugh, fall in love, have sex, and even eat a delicious meal. You can increase your body’s endorphin release by engaging in activities like moderate-intensity exercise, acupuncture, breathing and focusing type pf meditation, Sex, playing music, singing or dancing, good belly laughter and Ultraviolet light during outdoor time.
There are many natural ways to increase levels of feel-good hormones in your brain, including diet, exercise, and spending time with the people you care about. In a quest to feel better and prevent depression, it’s tempting to reach for a supplement as a quick pick-me-up. For most people, supplementing these hormones isn’t necessary. And in some cases, supplements can cause unwanted and even serious side effects.
Avoid over-stimulating them and ensure none of them are under-stimulated- that’s the balance that needs to be struck. When any one of them are understimulated, it could lead to a pathological condition – depression being the most common among them. So the magic words here are ‘natural’ and ‘balanced’: Engage in natural ways which boost these hormones and ensure that there is balanced focus on each of these. Better still is to find activities which help you promote all four.
All of us are pursuing happiness and happiness has been studied at many levels and from many vantage points. This post was meant to give us a hormone level (body level) understanding of happiness. The play of these hormones- their healthy release- gives us a subjective feedback of our success, achievements, gifts, talents, pleasures and love that we experience. Without their proper functioning a person, even though has all the ingredients of happiness in his/her life, will never be able to acknowledge it. Hence, physical health cannot be ignored irrespective of which objects we aim to find happiness in.