Brain Chemistry

I wrote recently about happiness and the ongoing hunt for it. Now I thought I would write a little bit about the chemistry of the brain and how that effects happiness and life in general. There are four main brain chemicals, also known as neurotransmitters, which relate to happiness – Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin and Endorphins.  Each play a different role and are produced by different situations.

First there is Dopamine – the reward chemical. This provides us with a little rush for achieving something or fulfilling a goal and motivates us to get things done. Too little of it can cause procrastination and feeling unmotivated. Breaking large tasks down into smaller one helps us to feel a continual sense of achievement and reward which in turn helps us to feel good. This is why praise and recognition it such a great motivator.

Serotonin is the feel good chemical. Unlike dopamine which is more about pleasure, serotonin is about to feeling fulfilled or belonging. So, having strong relationships (a sense of belonging) or fulfilling work is important as is a sense of appreciation and gratitude. This also has a role in avoiding anxiety and depression.

Oxytocin is the love chemical. It helps us to feel in love and so is important in social bonding and reproduction. Research shows that woman produce it more easily from less intense intimacy, such as from hugging. Whereas men need more stimulation to get the same effect. This may explain why men tend to be less faithful than women. Orgasms in both sexes produces a lot of oxytocin.

Endorphins are known as the painkilling chemical. They block the perception of pain and increase feelings of wellbeing. They are typically released in response to pain but can also be produced by exercise and laughter. So laughter really can be the best medicine and is good to have it in your life.   

Interesting, the brain does not distinguish between what is real and imagined when it comes to the production of these neurotransmitters. So remembering or imagining a situation that would produce them can stimulate their production. As Deepak Chopra (Indian-American author and alternative medicine advocate) said, “To think is to practice brain chemistry”.

All this means that our behaviours and choices can have a real physical impact on how we feel. And knowing this means we can choose to live our lives in a happier way. So, if you engage in fulfilling occupations, look after our family and friends, live our values and love others this will increase our levels of contentment.  Correspondingly, if we are feeling low, we can use our behaviours to lift us. For example, thinking back to a pleasant experience, having a hug or being intimate with someone, or having a laugh, will make you feel better

Remember, those around us are effected by our mood. So we can raise the happiness levels of those around us.  When we are happy, we find it easier to appreciate things and be positive about things. And this creates a greater sense of happiness.  This stimulates the parts of the brain responsible for these neurotransmitters. The more these parts are stimulated, the more active they become, meaning it’s easier for us to experience happiness. 

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