Thanks to the Heavens and Universe above for advances in neuroscience. Did you know that Aristotle, who is widely considered one of history’s greatest philosophers, believed the brain was “a secondary organ that served as a cooling agent for the heart?” In fact, Aristotle believed that all intelligence came from the heart.
Indeed, more has been discovered about the brain in the last two decades than in all previous years combined. And there’s still more to learn.
One particularly exciting field within the realm of neuroscientist is the study of brain chemicals, or neurochemistry. Neurochemistry is defined as “the study of neurochemicals, including neurotransmitters and other molecules.”
When we discuss our “happy chemicals,” we’re referring to four neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin.
We’re going to have a lot of fun in this article (I know I had a great time writing it!) because we’re going to talk about naturally increasing these chemicals. (As a side-note, I’ve tried some of these “experiments” myself and have felt much better as a result!)
To perhaps a bit of chagrin, we’re not going to delve too much into the science of it all – something that would take closer to 800,000 words than 800. Nope, we’re going with the always reliable K.I.S.S. approach.
Let’s get after it!
A (super) brief look at the four chemicals
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter made up of the amino acid tryptophan – and it’s commonly found in turkey. Serotonin helps to regulate appetite, learning, mood, sexual drive, and sleep.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s also synthesized from tryptophan (it’s a good day for turkey lovers!) Dopamine influences emotional responses, the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, and body movement.
Oxytocin is a brain chemical that is manufactured, stored and secreted by the pituitary gland. Also called the “love chemical,” oxytocin is crucial in developing and maintaining all relationships, from intimate to platonic and everything in between.
Endorphins are the brain’s natural opioids. They are “endogenous opioid neuropeptides” and hormones. Endorphins create feelings of euphoria and are also effective painkillers.
Changing happy chemicals
Changing the chemistry of your brain is not an overnight process. It takes a bit of time to establish new habits. But this period is probably much, much shorter than you think.
Loretta G. Breuning, Ph.D., and author of Meet Your Happy Chemicals advises her clients to allow 45 days before seeing significant changes in their thought processes and behaviors.
A month and a half? Not bad for a happier brain. While a relatively short period, it’s not an easy transformation. Why? Because our brains will resist any attempt to reprogram its innate wiring. Our brain loves habits, even if they’re unhealthy.
So, Dr. Breuning provides three key pieces of advice during this 45-day period:
Do not judge yourself
Your brain needs 45 days of repetition for a newly-formed habit to feel “normal.” You will experience discomfort. Breathe deep, practice acceptance, and stay on course!
Make peace with your “unhappy” chemicals
“Unhappy” chemicals serve important purposes. Namely, these compounds are responsible for our survival. They also help the brain communicate and are essential to its standard programming.
Choose new habits wisely.
Quite naturally, do not develop or continue “illegal, immoral, or fattening” habits. You’ll see what we’re talking about shortly. In short, “Too much of a good thing is often bad. Good and bad feelings flow at once at your brain decides which choice promotes your well-being,” hence the importance of habits.
How to Use The “Happy Chemicals” In Your Brain To Improve Your Mood
You’re all probably wondering “What do I need to do?” Great question. We’re going to make it super simple! Using research (which we cite at the end of each article), we’re going to discuss how to increase these happy chemicals with nutrition, and other lifestyle choices.
Let’s go one-by-one.
Diet and Nutrition: Eggs, cheese, tofu, pineapples, salmon, nuts and seeds, turkey, leafy greens, and cruciferous veggies. Vitamins B6, B12, C and D; folate, magnesium, DHA.
Lifestyle: Practice gratitude to serve as a reminder that you’re valued. Make sure to get a some “fun in the sun,” even if it’s for just 10 minutes at a time.
Diet and nutrition: almonds, avocados, bananas, beef, chicken, eggs, red meat (in moderation.) Vitamins B6, A and C, protein, folate, copper, DHA, magnesium.
Lifestyle: Take on a new challenge, and make small progress on it every day. Refrain from excess alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, as these are akin to a cheat sheet on a final exam. Moderation is key.
Diet and nutrition: (Research is skimpy here). Comfort foods (e.g., chocolate), if anything.
Lifestyle: Touch, warmth, massage, aromatherapy (potentially), intimate behaviors, sexual intercourse, gift-giving, charity.
Diet and nutrition: (Questionable), but may include some chocolate and a big of ginseng.
Lifestyle: Exercise (e.g., “runners high”), scented oils, sense of humor, and plenty of laughing!
Other great ideas
As this is an article and not a research paper, we couldn’t include everything that releases our “happy chemicals.”
Meditation (which may be the best practice), having hobbies, mindfulness, getting “out of your comfort zone,” and many other things boost certain chemicals within the brain.
(There is plenty of published stuff online [see Pinterest!] that describes how to influence your brain chemicals – just make sure to double-check the sources!)
To your continued happiness!