How to trick your brain into releasing chemicals that make you happy

The limbic system is the part of the brain that controls our emotions, motivation and behavior. The brain acts as a survival mechanism that produces chemicals that allow our body know what is good and bad for us, and that includes to find happiness.

Our brain is always on alert and tends to focus on negativity to protect us from harm. But no one wants their brain to be on alert and focused on negativity all the time.

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Did you know that it can actually increase «feel good» brain chemicals that can make you feel happy? You just need to learn to harness these four main chemicals: dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins.

Although everyday events and situations activate these neurotransmitters automatically, there are ways to encourage the brain to produce them, which allows us create and repeat happy feelings.

Truly happy people know what makes them happiest, what releases those chemicals. And when those chemicals are released, we feel more motivated, productive, and experience greater well-being.

To get you started on being happy, here are the 4 brain chemicals connected to your emotions that will increase your happiness.

1. Dopamine

Often referred to as the «happiness drug,» it is responsible for motivating us to act, make decisions, and feel pleasure when we achieve our goals.

Dopamine is the brain’s way of patting us on the back for a job well done when we score a goal, get an ‘A’ or cross the finish line, for example. Do you experience procrastination, self-doubt or lethargy? Low dopamine levels could be to blame. Time to manufacture some wins for the ‘team you’.

Here are ways to increase your dopamine levels:

  • Creating mini finish lines to cross instead of just one big finish when a goal is achieved helps us feel good for a longer period of time.
  • Initiating acts of kindness towards others gives the brain a dose of dopamine.
  • Give up smoking. A recent study showed that smokers had 15-20% less ability to produce dopamine than non-smokers, but it is reversible if you stop smoking.

2. Oxytocin

Affectionately known as the «cuddle hormone,» it is released through social interactions such as giving (or receiving) gifts, making eye contact, giving or receiving affection (such as a handshake, hug, or pat on the shoulder), give birth or have sexual intercourse.

Here are ways to increase your oxytocin levels:

  • Make eye contact during your conversations.
  • Get a massage.
  • Hug a friend, pet your pet, or share a more intimate moment with a loved one.
  • Meditation and prayer.

3. Serotonin

You are in a good mood? You can thank serotonin. Serotonin is the brain’s preferred antidepressant drug. It arises when you feel that your life and your efforts matter.

Do you feel ‘hungry’ (hungry and angry)? Since 80 percent of serotonin exists in the stomach, skipping meals depletes serotonin, which can lead to moodiness.

Here are ways to increase your serotonin levels:

  • Express gratitude.
  • Increase your exposure to sunlight. This produces vitamin D which, in turn, triggers serotonin.
  • Think positive thoughts. Serotonin does not distinguish between reality and imagination, so when the imagination or memory is active, it produces serotonin as if the event were real.
  • Exercise. Even inconspicuous exercise stimulates serotonin, so gardening, walking dogs, or playing with your kids count.

4. Endorphins

If you’ve ever hit your thumb with a hammer, stubbed your toe, or experienced a «runner’s high,» then you know what endorphins feel like. They act like morphine to relieve pain and stress.

Here are ways to increase your endorphin levels:

  • Eat chocolate. Chocolate contains phenethylamine which stimulates endorphins.
  • Exercise releases endorphins. As little as 30 minutes can do the trick.
  • Find opportunities to laugh. Laughter has been shown to release endorphins.
  • Try aromatherapy. Certain scents influence endorphin production – try diffusing vanilla, lavender, or peppermint into the air, in your bathroom, or in your next cup of tea or coffee.
  • When you design your daily experiences and habits around this knowledge, you can activate these chemicals, increase your productivity, and more importantly, proactively increase your happiness.