Lord knows we need happiness now more than ever, but how do we find it when things get so bad?
Let’s face it: Turning on the news is no source of happiness, rather it works to shock people and brings out the very worst in us, including anger, fear and division. But the human body is an extraordinary invention, one with components designed to help us find the light when we’re lost in the dark.
Simple science tells us happiness can be found in four common brain chemicals — happiness chemicals — that we can activate more and more in order to lead us towards consistently better days. Those chemicals are serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins. Each creates its own neural path towards happiness and each has a number of ways by which to arrive.
Today, we’re going to give you a quick idea of what each one is, how it might feel and healthy ways to obtain that feeling as well as keep it around.
Dopamine is the rewards chemical, which happens in response to us taking positive actions, such as completing a task or making the time to take care of ourselves.
It’s in those moments that we feel the pure dopamine drip we so desire. Scrolling through social media, liking and getting liked for our delicately curated social posts, has become this shortcut to happiness that dissipates faster than the spicy nacho flavor of a cleverly designed potato chip. The more opinionated or vain we are, the better it feels when someone positively comments, but that’s not the healthiest way to receive happiness by way of rewards.
Dopamine can be accessed by making a routine out of celebrating the small victories and self-help moments. Though we’ve become jaded at times, it can be advantageous for us to have and express gratitude for finishing a book, having a good meeting at work after preparing, learning to bake a pie, getting dressed up or even taking a shower when you don’t have to. There’s no better feeling than completing a task, however small. The bigger the task, the bigger the commitment, the bigger the happiness payoff. Doing things you love with a pure heart, how could you go wrong?
It’s in making an effort we find happiness continually throughout our days, daily throughout our weeks and so on.
Serotonin is the mood stabilizer that balances us out. When you’re having a bad day, it tips the scale towards the light, which is coincidentally the thing that kicks serotonin into gear.
Being outside and exercising, getting sun on your face and going for a run, going for a sunset walk or hike, sitting to meditate, being aware the breeze and your breath — your smelly mask-wearing breath, we hope — all do the trick. It’s in being with nature, away from your phone, and again, having gratitude for the things around you that you find a jolt of happiness in a potentially fruitless day. A lot of it has to do with perspective, too.
While many find their ecstasy in barbituates and other drug experimentation, we’ve discovered the surest and purest path to balancing our moods is found leaning towards the sun.
Oxytocin is the love hormone, and you get it when you lead with love rather than hate. It’s easy if you’re willing to admit you love puppies and babies.
Life, in general, is the universe expressing love. It’s a creation we all marvel over, and it’s when we roll around with puppies and watch a baby smile back at us (right before blowing out its diaper, of course) that we feel the power of creation.
While we’ve been asked not to shake hands, hug one another and kiss our loved ones outside of our quarantine bubble, that leaves all the more reason to love extra hard on those we can right now. But it can be as simple as paying a compliment, buying someone coffee (even the stranger six feet behind you), any act of love you can think of. Even as I write this to you now, I feel it. My interest in making your day and your life better with simple ideas anyone can follow gives me a lot of joy.
It’s in loving this world by showing how much you love it that we access the oxytocin inside ourselves.
Endorphins are the pain killer, and we all know the wrong kind of painkiller is a plague of our daily living.
Personally, I’ve dealt with excruciating back pain from a slipped and torn disc, and the painkillers I try my best to avoid fog up my head, make breathing difficult and cause plenty of unwanted side effects that make living happily and doing good work more difficult. So it’s in finding healthy, natural endorphins that we try to make things better.
The most popular road to endorphins is by exercising, but even what we consume plays a big part. It’s my nightly routine to watch Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah as I wash down dinner with a glass of wine, but even as I do those things, I know they’re not good for me. As I’ve said, the nightly news is like a reality horror show, and we all know alcohol to be a depressant.
By switching out wine for dark chocolate on occasion and swapping a comedy for the joke show that is our current national debate every other night, we’re already halfway to a much happier place. And it doesn’t hurt if, on your way to that happier place, you put on your running shoes for a light jog.
It’s in ditching the drugs and living for the real painkillers — exercise and laughter — that we brighten our day.
As we attempt to bend in the direction of happiness more and more, let’s focus on taking care of ourselves first and foremost so that we can be better for others. By all means, perform your responsible roles as citizens — VOTE! — but then return to a peaceful place designed to cultivate happiness daily. There’s no use in overstaying your welcome in toxic places, especially when we can spend more of our precious time here leaning towards the sun.