If science classes taught us anything, it’s that our moods and feelings are influenced by the hormones in our body. Some hormones are known to help keep us on a happy and pleasurable high.
In fact, these hormones aren’t a mystery to us and some of it may already sound familiar to you. The four hormones responsible for keeping us feeling positive and good are dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins.
So, how do these four happy hormones work and affect us?
Serotonin is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter, which helps regulate our mood, sleep, appetite, digestion, memory and learning ability. When serotonin levels are low or absent, we start to have a creeping feeling of loneliness and, at times, depression. This hormone flows when we feel significant or important.
Dopamine , also known as the feel-good hormone, is also a neurotransmitter that affects our brain’s reward system. As such, dopamine is linked to pleasurable sensations and a high level of the hormone helps motivate us to achieve our goals, desires and needs. When dopamine levels are low, we exhibit behaviours such as procrastination, showing low enthusiasm and being riddled with self-doubt.
Oxytocin , known famously as the love or cuddle hormone, is released when there’s physical affection like kissing, cuddling and sex. It’s an essential hormone in childbirth and breastfeeding too. The release of oxytocin helps to promote intimacy, trust, empathy and bonding in relationships.
Endorphins are actually our body’s natural pain reliever. Our body releases endorphins as a way to alleviate feelings of discomfort, perceptions of pain, anxiety and depression. Surprisingly, endorphin levels increase when we perform reward-producing tasks such as eating, exercise and laughing!
Now that we know what each hormone does, the question still remains. How do we go about maintaining our levels of happy hormones? As it turns out, our body can produce these hormone naturally by doing these activities:
1. Head outside and soak up some sun
Homebodies will sigh at this suggestion but all we really need is just a few minutes of sunshine to help produce serotonin and endorphins. Just bask in the sunlight for 10 to 15 minutes before retreating into your dark, comfortable room. Of course, you can venture out to the neighbourhood park for a while, or grab a bite to eat since you’re already out of the house.
To hit the most birds with one stone, it’s best to head to the gym and work out. When we exercise regularly, the body produces endorphins, serotonin and dopamine! The legend of the ‘runner’s high’ rings true.
3. Laugh out loud Laughter is indeed the best medicine, but please be kind and not make other people the butt of your jokes. Watch a comedy show or share jokes with friends instead. Laughing can help boost dopamine and endorphin levels while also relieving feelings of anxiety and stress. When we bond with someone over something hilarious, the body produces oxytocin too!
4. Have yummy and nutritious meals
Eating a particularly delicious, or a favourite meal definitely lifts spirits up thanks to the release of dopamine and endorphins. Bonding with people we love with food? The oxytocin levels are just going to shoot up. Certain foods also help in boosting our happy hormones, such as spicy food and food containing probiotics such as yoghurt and kimchi.
5. Listen to music Have you realised that we often turn to music when we’re feeling down? Our body definitely knows what is needed to boost our spirits. Listening to tunes that we love increases our dopamine and serotonin production. We get a dose of endorphins too when we make music, dance or sing.
6. Play and cuddle with pets
We already know hugging releases oxytocin, and the same works when we hug our pets. Even better, the pets we hug and stroke also get their own boost of oxytocin levels, too. Happy owners lead to happy pets!
7. Get enough sleep
All of us know that getting enough sleep definitely improves our mood the next day. Too many late nights often lead to an imbalance of dopamine levels, which explains why we feel listless or uninspired when we wake up.
8. Break goals into tiny parts
Since dopamine affects the reward system in our brain, it’s helpful to break big tasks or goals into smaller parts. This way, we can experience tiny hits of dopamine from accomplishing each task, instead of waiting for the grand finish line. To ensure a constant flow of dopamine, create something to look forward to, such as setting new goals or rewarding yourself for finishing a task.
9. Reflect on past achievements
There are reasons why gratitude practices are popular. Reflecting on our past achievements and other happy memories help us relive the good experience. This leads to an increase of serotonin levels in the body, making us feel valued and that we have much to value in life.
10. Enjoy a massage The quickest way to boost the production of all four happy hormones in the body is to visit a spa and get a massage. Based on a 2004 research, both serotonin and dopamine levels increase after a massage which also leads to a rise in oxytocin and endorphins.