Part Two: How to Reboot the Brain to Release Your Inner Happy
Right now, scientifically speaking, we have a lot to be grateful for.
Never before in human history have we had as much access to the knowledge of how our bodies function like we do today.
Just in the last 20 years, treatments for diseases such as cancer, eyesight degeneration and Hepatitis C have vastly improved.
Within the last 10 years, advancement in brain research, in particular, has been remarkable!
Neurological diseases that used to require invasive and often painful procedures just to diagnose can now be discovered by a simple blood test. The belief that our brains cannot develop or change once we’ve reached adulthood has been proven false.
And amazingly, the chemicals in the brain that make us feel happy—I call them the Fab Four—have been identified.
There are pros and cons to looking at the brain as a source of happiness.
When it comes to basic biological functioning, the pros have it. If you stimulate the brain to release or produce these chemicals, you will feel a hit of happy immediately.
The cons have a different take on the matter.
From their view, no matter how much you activate your brain, it won’t change your personal history, the way you feel about past and present events in your life, how these events impact your behavior and shaped your character, how often you find yourself becoming avoidant, defensive, dismissive or aggressive in stressful circumstances…
In other words, stimulating the brain won’t fix your unresolved emotional or psychological issues. But when it comes to long-term fulfillment, both the pros and cons give us much to consider. To be well rounded, perhaps its best to include elements from both sides.
Neuroscience isn’t psychotherapy, but it is helpful to know how to help your brain produce happy chemicals to help you better cope with and relax into day-to-day experiences.
Below is a breakdown of the Fab Four—the chemicals that help you release your Inner Happy—what they do, and how to activate them.
Dopamine – D
D is the chemical that helps us feel pleasure from things such as sex, winning at gambling, some drugs, alcohol and exercise.
It’s involved in several brain functions and activates the feeling of being rewarded.
Too much D can lead to addiction.
People with low levels of D often struggle with attention problems, anxiety (both with too high or low levels of D), confusion, fatigue, slow thinking, lower metabolism, sleep issues and lack of coordination and balance.
Currently, there are no tests that measure dopamine levels, and one person’s optimal level of D can be completely different from another’s.
If you’re addicted to something just to get the D rush, in most cases, stopping will allow your brain to regulate and produce the levels needed for your body.
Ways to Help Your Brain Produce/Release More D
- Consciously make yourself think about something positive 5 times per day, 20 days in a row
- Do new things or find a hobby
- Eat foods rich in protean such as nuts, cheese, eggs and meat
- Listen to music
- Take natural supplements such as L-Tyrosine and L-Phenylalanine
- If all else fails, medication can help.
Endorphins – E
E is often called the pleasure, or happy, hormone.
When released, E makes us feel good and balanced. It’s also a natural pain reliever.
E regulates appetite, releases sex hormones, and is good for the immune system. When people are called on to perform difficult challenges, E is released, making the challenge more manageable.
Examples of E in action are: a soldier in a war field who gets wounded but carries on; a person who plans a funeral even though a loved one has just passed; or a boxer who continues to perform even though she or he’s been pummelled by the opponent.
Attention CHOCOLATE LOVERS: refined carbs, extreme sports, and sex release endorphins.
While E itself is not addictive, it’s not uncommon for people to seek out experiences just to keep the ‘high’ feelings flow through the body.
Low or depleted levels of E can be caused by constant stress, unresolved emotional pain, living with an abusive partner, having neglectful parents, physical trauma, and pretending things are okay when they’re not.
- You cry easily
- Music doesn’t appeal to you like it used to
- Hugs feel like they lost their warmth
- You can’t stand sadness in people and in situations
- You feel sad for no reason
- Life tosses you a curve ball, and you can’t bounce back
- People say you’re too sensitive
- You eat more junk food
- You have a constant low mood and suddenly become a thrill seeker
Ways to Help Your Brian Produce/Release More E
- Allow yourself to be hugged, or hug someone you love for longer than 10 seconds
- Eat foods high in protein
- Increase your levels of exercise; almost all physical activity releases E
- Increase your intake of Vitamins B and C
- Add a Magnesium supplement to your diet
- Add D and L-Phenylalanine (amino acids) to your diet
- Literally, stop and smell some roses
- Watch the sunset
Oxytocin – O
O is a hormone associated with positive emotions and feelings.
When O is released, it lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, lowers your heart rate and increases levels of connectedness to yourself and others.
Often referred to as the “bonding chemical”, O is what gets released when a baby is being held in its mother’s arms, including times of breastfeeding, and both are gazing into each other’s eyes.
O initially became of interest to scientists when they realised mothers who breastfeed are calmer during exercise and stressful situations than mothers who bottle-feed.
Feeling safe and calm in uncertain situations is also attributed to the release of O.
Unsurprisingly, O gets released during orgasm.
The impact of having low levels of O is not fully understood yet. However, it is linked to poor social skills, depression and the autism spectrum disorder.
Ways to Help Your Brain Produce/Release More O
- Be authentic
- Call an old friend
- Eat more bananas and eggs, and use more ground pepper
- Engage in a stimulating conversation
- Express gratitude meaningfully
- Express love
- GIVE MONEY TO A STRANGER
- Meditate and focus on someone you care for
- Perform random acts of kindness, often
- Play with your pet
- Spend time in nature
- Take a walk
- Watch a funny movie or a comedian to laugh more
- Do yoga
Serotonin – S
S is often associated with mood stability.
High or low levels of S can affect appetite, breast milk production, liver regeneration, migraine headaches, memory, sexual desire and function, sleep, and social behaviour.
S is manufactured in both the intestines AND the brain. In the intestines, S helps regulate bowel function and movement and also helps us feel less hungry as food is consumed.
Illicit mood altering drugs such as Ecstasy and LSD cause a massive increase of S in the brain.
Low levels of S are considered to be a major factor in depression.
Scientists, however, are uncertain whether low levels of S contribute to depression, or whether depression causes the brain to produce lower levels of S.
Ways to Help Your Brain Produce/Release More S
- Buy a special light designed to help you with low mood
- Drink more water
- Eat foods that are higher in tryptophan, such as chickpeas, fruit, legumes, nuts, oatmeal, turkey, whole grain crackers, peanut butter and popcorn
- Increase levels of exercise
- Participate in spiritual activity and read spiritual books
This list might seem overwhelming, and you may not know where to start.
To help get the ball rolling, go through the lists in this post again and highlight things you’re already doing. That alone will make you feel good – even if you only identify one thing.
Next, mark the activities that would be easy for you to incorporate into your life. Pick one and implement it. Once you have that new activity as part of your routine, pick another one and implement it.
For example: you might find you are already having many stimulating conversations with your friends. Great! Feel good about it!
Next, you’d like to start drinking more water, start pursuing a new hobby (an old forgotten one) and make yourself think about something positive 5 times per day, 20 days in a row.
What would be the easiest to implement?
I’d start with thinking about something positive 5 times per day. Identify times to do that. For instance, when you wake up, when you’re having breakfast, when you’re having lunch, when you’re having dinner, and before going to bed. That’s 5 times a day when you can easily remind yourself to think of something good – even if it’s how your food tastes.
The key here is to fully feel the goodness of the experience.
Part three of this series on Happiness will focus on the importance of self-reflection and the role it plays in long term fulfilment.
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Joseph Eliezer is a Clinical Counsellor, Psychotherapist and author of Simply Spirit who helps people transform emotional, mental, and spiritual unease into confidence, clarity, prosperity, and vitality. Follow him on Twitter.
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