There are lots of hormones and neurotransmitters that our body naturally produces at times of joy that can boost our mood and help us to feel better.
As we start to prioritise our own health and well-being, an important step is learning how to trigger the release of these ‘feel-good’ hormones and then harnessing these to boost our general mood and overall sense of happiness and contentment
The key to feeling happier day-to-day is finding activities that boost your body’s natural ‘happy hormones’, and then making them a regular part of your life.
Our top four ‘happy-hormones’ are listed below; let’s consider them individually and then consider ways to incorporate them into our daily routines:
- Dopamine; this ‘pleasure hormone’ is released each time we engage in a pleasurable activity, which reinforces the behaviour, making us want to do it again. It has a positive effect when released in response to healthy behaviours; helping us to focus and concentrate, improving memory, and it encouraging motivation and productivity.
It is released in response to time spent in sunlight or time spent appreciating nature. It is released in response to exercise, such as a brisk walk for more than 30 minutes, and is also in part responsible for the elation and joy often described as the ‘runner’s high’, but can be linked to all forms of exercise including dancing, cycling, swimming and gardening.
It can also be boosted by listening to music or by making music or performing.
Meditation, yoga, deep breathing and massage are also more gentle methods of boosting the feel-good vibes experienced with dopamine release.
Regularly boosting your dopamine levels has been shown to significantly help reduce stress and anxiety, and help improve issues associated with low mood, depression and sleep-disturbance.
For individuals struggling with low mood or depression it is recommended to avoid alcohol, recreational drugs and to reduce intake of processed sugars, which can all give a temporary, artificial boost of dopamine – a rush of dopamine or a ‘sugar high’ which is very short-lived and followed by a crash that can leave you feeling very low.
- Serotonin; this is a neurotransmitter produced in significant proportions from a healthy gut, and which is involved in many processes throughout the body, including helping to regulate your mood, promoting good digestion and regulating healthy sleep patterns.
We can maximise the beneficial effects of Serotonin by optimising good gut health through healthy diet and supporting a healthy gut microbiome (good bacteria in the gut which help healthy digestion). Also by getting more exercise, or by boosting our daily exposure to sun and natural light ,and by spending more time in nature, such as forest walks, or by feeling the soil between your fingers as you garden, or by socialising with loved ones or helping others.
- Endorphins; these are chemical messengers released by your central nervous system and pituitary gland when you are active, when you experience injury or physical exertion or acute stress. They are produced to help relieve pain and help you cope with physical demands or stress and may help lift mood or create feelings of euphoria.
We can harness the power and positive effects of endorphins through regular exercise, massage and acupuncture, sex, hot baths, or cryotherapy. Endorphin-release can also be triggered by making music, through laughter with friends or through random acts of kindness.
- Oxytocin; this is often referred to as the ‘love hormone’, and is the hormone that washes through a mother during childbirth to help with bonding, attachment and nursing. It is also linked to that overwhelming rush of adoration and devotion in the first flush of a romantic connection. It can lift mood, alleviate pain and encourage positive social connections, and can be triggered and boosted through romantic affection, caring hugs from supportive friends, stroking or cuddling pets, holding hands, kissing, massage and intimate touch. Consider it the hormone that helps produce those warm, fuzzy feelings!
An understanding of the effects of oxytocin explains the undeniable importance of having loving and affectionate relationships and strong social support network on our mental wellbeing and overall happiness.
With this valuable knowledge of hormones in mind, we can put together our ‘tool-kit’ of ‘top health hacks for daily happiness’:
- Find your ‘tribe’ of positive and supportive friends and spend time with them as often as possible. Let the people you love know how grateful you are to have them on your team often; they might really need to hear it;
- Spend time outdoors regularly, appreciating the changing seasons and the peace and beauty of your surroundings and consider your gratitude’s;
- Prioritise regular exercise for maximal physical and mental health benefits; try some activities outdoors each week to maximise your workouts with the added boost of sunlight and time spent in nature;
- Spend time with pets enjoying the affection and unconditional adoration!
- Listen to feel-good music; put together playlists for your different moods including tracks to help motivate you and boost your energy and joy, plus a reliable soundtrack to help you unwind, relax and destress. Include these in your daily lifestyle, and learn to lose your inhibitions and sing out loud or dance around the kitchen when needed! Even better, learn a new instrument, or join a choir or band or dance class to boost your social circle and have some fun alongside like-minded people;
- Laugh more; try and make yours a family that giggles together! Life can be stressful and serious; try to rediscover the fun again, be more playful, find the joy again, be silly, tell rubbish jokes, play games and pull pranks, watch silly videos and comedies together or go to live comedy with friends;
- Enjoy cooking and eating together; rather than trays infront of the tv, instead include a regular healthy and tasty shared meal together. Talk about the successes of your day, congratulate and boost each other, plan goals together and share dreams and ideas;
- Explore joy through guilt-free self-care; consider reducing your stress levels regularly through making time for deep-breathing, yoga, massage, reading, a relaxing hot bath, coffee and a good magazine, golf, or even a much-needed nap; whatever your body and mind need the most to rebalance; start to listen to your own internal signals and needs;
- Engage all your senses; every day bring some joy to your daily routines by engaging your senses and thinking what can make you happy whilst working through the mundane chores! Start the day with uplifting music or an invigorating shower with an energy-boosting citrus or mint shower gel; appreciate the scent and taste of a great morning coffee, light a mood-lifting scented candle at your desk, such as bergamot or ylang ylang, or break from your desk and get outside at lunch to feel the sunshine on your shoulders as you walk or read or run the soil through your fingers in the garden. Cuddle your cat or be adored by your dog, or just appreciate some fluffy socks or an incredible sunset; find joy in the small stuff.
- Be creative in whatever form appeals to you! Rediscover the hobbies you once loved like drawing, painting, crafting or carpentry. Make a crafting table, treat yourself to an hour pottering in an art shop choosing pencils, get your sewing machine dusted off and make some pretty bunting for a friend or enjoy taking some photos at your favourite park or at the coast. Make a fabulous feast meal for loved with a beautifully laid table, or make a birthday cake for a friend. Maybe you want to take up a new instrument, craft, language or hobby; make this a year of self-discovery and personal growth, to find what gives you a sense of accomplishment and joy!
Sometimes life gets so busy and overwhelming that we lose our sense of self, and become so weighed down with the stresses, the challenges and the endless lists of jobs that happiness and fun get pushed out.
Including just a few little daily windows of joy can massively change our outlook, our resilience to cope and our level of contentment.
This year commit to yourself that you will start to get back Intune with the activities that give you joy and then do more of them! You are worth it!!