Have you ever wondered why watching that exciting movie on Netflix did not turn out as satisfying as hoped for? Why does binge watching sometimes makes us feel guilty? The answer lies in happiness currencies of our body, how different activities earn us these chemical currencies, which currencies are best at ‘earning’ happiness and how to keep our accounts loaded with them. Let’s look deeper into the hormones and neurotransmitters that make us happy:
Physical touch of a loved one:
Cuddling releases oxytocin, and its repeated bursts in the presence of the same person over and over, build trust. No wonder we feel relaxed even by the sight of our loved ones, kids or even our pets. In terms of evolution, this hormone creates the essential bonding between mother and the young and is also known as ‘trust hormone’, ‘bonding hormone’ or ‘love hormone’. Dogs and humans can stimulate each other’s oxytocinergic system. A study found that when the oxytocin levels of both dogs and owners got down, that led to more interactions and stroking, followed by an increase in oxytocin levels in both. Does not come as a surprise that dogs were one of the first animals to be domesticated more than 10,000 years ago!
Earning a reward after a task:
All of us have experienced the joy of eating something we craved for, the release of dopamine in the brain when our need is going to be met. Although small tasks, such as ‘a movie about to start in a cinema’ release dopamine, don’t let it tempt you to do only the easy tasks avoiding the complicated ones (such as a project at work, which is usually more rewarding!). A trick is to break up the complicated ones into small multiple tasks lasting a few minutes. After that, checking off things from a to-do list of these micro-tasks will also release dopamine. And, at the end of the day, you will be more productive as well.
The anti-anxiety, mood booster:
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates our mood, preventing anxiety and depression. From the point of evolution, serotonin enhances traits necessary to achieve and maintaining dominant rank in social hierarchy. A study found that the reported degree of happiness was associated with increased serotonin synthesis in the right anterior cingulate cortex and sadness was negatively correlated with it. Serotonin levels can be increased naturally by bright light, exercise and some foods. Serotonin in the body is synthesized from amino acids like tryptophan. Cheese, red meat, whole milk and nuts have a high amount of tryptophan in it.
Continuous exercise releases body’s own morphine: Endorphins, so does eating chocolates, spicy food, laughter and severe pain. These molecules induce euphoria and act on the same receptors as opioids/ morphine. In moments of intense pain, endorphins allow us to ignore the pain and persist. In other situations, like a body massage or long running, they allow us to feel blissful (also known as ‘Runner’s high’).
The rescue hormone: Cortisol
Unlike the above mentioned ‘joymones’, cortisol levels are indicative of stress. Cortisol crates a negative emotion, mobilizes sugar in the body and tries to stimulate you by increasing the blood pressure and heart rate. Even though an ‘unhappy’ hormone, cortisol is body’s way of telling you to avoid these potentially harmful situations. You don’t want cortisol levels to stay high for long.
To summarize, the body releases ‘Joymones’ when we do acts that enhance our survival, like food, social support (oxytocin), safety (endorphins help you escape despite pain), material pleasure (dopamine) and societal dominance (serotonin). Over time, it becomes a neuronal circuit, so it does not matter whether the hormone comes first or its effect. The more of such tasks you do, the more the body gets happy. This is the way habits are created. Even though watching movies may release some dopamine in the beginning, overdoing it does not sustain the spurt!
We thought of writing this blog, so that you can take better control of your ‘Joymones’. At Refine Naturals: We believe “You Deserve Better than FINE!”
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