The dictionary describes happiness as “The state of mind of a person who feels fully satisfied by enjoying what he or she desires or by enjoying something good”, which, when put like that, although generic, sounds quite simple… but the reality is that we all know that finding happiness is a much more complicated process.
Happiness has multiple forms and features, besides being something very personal; each person is happy with very different things; there are those who need very little and others who, no matter how much they have, never find satisfaction in it, but beyond the philosophical indoles that this topic may have…
Did you know that there is a purely biological factor that predisposes us to be more or less happy? Let’s call this the chemistry of happiness.
Like everything that happens in our body, moods are influenced by different chemical reactions between substances that interact with each other.
Specifically, 4 hormones have been detected whose presence or absence makes us more or less happy. These are commonly known as the happiness quartet: dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin.
What role do each of these hormones play?
- Dopamine: This neurotransmitter was discovered 70 years ago and since then the multiple implications it has on our whole organism have been known. Dopamine is known as the hormone of pleasure and no wonder, since it activates a whole process of internal chemical cascades called reward circuit, which makes us tend to repeat over and over again certain behaviors in search of that feeling of satisfaction. As a curiosity, this hormone is partially to blame for compulsive shopping or gambling addiction. (1)
- Serotonin: is a neurotransmitter directly involved in the regulation of moods, physiological functions and social and reproductive behaviors, circadian rhythms… among many others. Serotonin imbalances are directly related to diseases such as schizophrenia, depression, epilepsy or anxiety. (2)
- Endorphins: This neurotransmitter is related to the reduction of pain and the sensation of well-being. They are known as endogenous morphine, since they bind to the same opioid receptors as this drug, but are created naturally by our body, so they have no side effects and are considered more effective. (3, 4)
- Oxytocin: This substance generally secreted in the brain is known as the love hormone precisely because it is directly involved in the process of falling in love. It is also a hormone that plays a star role at the time of childbirth, in fact, doctors often decide to inject it to expectant mothers to accelerate the whole process of dilation. In addition, it has been identified as one of the fundamental hormones in motherhood and lactation. (5) This hormone has been attributed wonders for improving social skills and some diseases such as depression, post-traumatic syndrome or autism, among others.
What can we do to improve the levels of these substances in our body?
- Exercise: It has been proven that exercising produces a release of hormones associated with well-being and happiness, especially endorphins. If you also do it in the sun, you increase its effect.
- Cultivate your social relationships: Maintaining a close circle in whom you can trust and spending time with friends and family is essential to induce the secretion of these substances and feel safe and happy.
- Enhance happiness by choosing certain foods: Although we cannot introduce these substances naturally with the diet, we can introduce certain foods in it that increase and enhance the production of these substances in the body. For example, eating dark chocolate in moderation helps to increase oxytocin levels, while if you eat spicy food, you will boost the creation of endorphins.
- Set yourself goals and achieve them: This will activate the reward cycle we talked about previously and, therefore, more dopamine and serotonin will be secreted, which will make you feel more satisfied with yourself.
Laughing, hugging and giving or receiving a gift is also a good way to activate oxytocin and serotonin. (6, 7).
In the end, happiness has infinite forms, but if there is one thing we are sure of, it is that living a peaceful and fulfilling life surrounded by our loved ones will always lead us to be much happier and more comfortable with ourselves and others.
- Trueta, Citlali, & Cercós, Montserrat G. (2012). Regulación de la liberación de serotonina en distintos compartimientos neuronales. Salud mental, 35(5), 435-443. Recuperado en 10 de marzo de 2022, de http://www.scielo.org.mx/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0185-33252012000500011&lng=es&tlng=es.
- Bakermans-Kranenburg, M., van IJzendoorn, M. Sniffing around oxytocin: review and meta-analyses of trials in healthy and clinical groups with implications for pharmacotherapy. Transl Psychiatry 3, e258 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/tp.2013.34
- BBC. (2017). El “cuarteto de la felicidad”: cómo desatar los efectos positivos de la endorfina, serotonina, dopamina y oxitocina https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-39333917