How You Can “Trick Your Brain” Into Being Happier
I want you to know that I want you to be happy.
As doctors, we’re really concerned about relieving suffering and helping people be happier.
Do I think we deserve to be happy? No.
Do I think we should do everything in our power to be happy? Absolutely not.
As a believer in Jesus, I’m not convinced that happiness is why we’re here. However, I think that the love we share with others and the love we are able to receive from God should cause the world to be a happier place.
There are many things that contribute to our deeply unhappy states as humans.
War, famine, disease, comparison, neglect.
The list could go on and on and many of those factors are entirely out of our control.
However, there are plenty of facets of life that we can control that can lead to more happiness.
Now I won’t say anything as bombastic as these tips and tricks contained in this article will clear away depression and send you into states of euphoric bliss… but I bet you money that if you employ some of these tips and tricks that you may find the overall quality of your life, and how you feel about it will absolutely improve.
How Your Brain Can Unwittingly Hold Keys to Your Happiness
I want to be clear about something…
I think the word ‘happiness’ may be the wrong word to use when I talk about working on your brain for an improved sense of well-being.
For instance, say you’ve just cut your hand wide open on the jagged edge of a metal fence. All of the sudden, you’re in pain.
Your nerves are sending signals to your brain that say “OW, this really hurts.”
Before that you weren’t hurting, you weren’t in pain, you were feeling normal (at least your hand was).
Much of the pain and misery people suffer that causes them to be unhappy is a result of suffering some kind of trauma (physical, emotional, spiritual) and that trauma can persist for days, weeks, months, or years which can make a person feel unhappy.
My suggestion is there are ways to alleviate the signals your brain is emitting that cause you to believe you’re unhappy and move you back into a state of normalcy. For some people normalcy is “happy,” for others, it’s something else.
Bottom line is this: your brain can be “manipulated” to promote positive health and positive thoughts, and all it requires is that you understand some basic truths about how your brain works and seek to enhance its function so you feel better.
Brain Chemicals, the Messengers of Sad, Happy, and Everything in Between
I talk frequently about neurotransmitters and hormones because they’re some of the most important chemicals in the body and they affect almost every biological function.
There are a few hormones and neurotransmitters that are more important than others when it comes to mood and how we feel.
I won’t get into the complex nature of how these hormones and neurotransmitters work inside your body, but you ought to know this, they all require a precise balance to work well and to establish the existence of “happiness” I’ve been talking about.
Many people get hooked on these chemicals because they work so well at helping people feel good…but that can have a negative effect.
For instance, the hormone dopamine is frequently called the “feel-good hormone.” People know how to activate dopamine whenever they want, but sometimes it creates damaging cycles that create dependencies that no amount of dopamine can fix.
For instance, a like or a comment on a social media post is known to elicit a dopamine release.
1 like makes a little bit of dopamine, 10 likes produces a little more.
The problem is what happens when a person identifies their happiness with the social-media induced dopamine release with something more substantial, like their identity. That can become quite problematic and the quest for more dopamine can produce in a person all kinds of terrible habits and false beliefs that lead to unhappiness.
The same thing goes with oxytocin, AKA the “love hormone?” Oxytocin is one of the first hormones children use. When a mother breast-feeds her child the child will experience an oxytocin release to help bond her to the mom so the child will continue to eat.
Oxytocin is released in social situations (it’s a bonding hormone) along with sexual encounters.
Sadly, some people mistake oxytocin for love and develop unhealthy attachments and relationships because they need an oxytocin fix. The answer for being happy isn’t in constantly feeling the rush of oxytocin.
Nor is it getting your endorphins to surge. Endorphins are a package of neurotransmitters that give you the feeling of a rush when something scary, or exciting happens. These chemicals are known scientifically as “opiate peptides.”
They actually work in your brain in much the same way that certain classes of drugs (like anti-anxiety drugs and opiates) do. Meaning, that the release of endorphins can exhibit drug like effects and help with pain management and the easing of anxiety.
Of course, if you aren’t careful you can take it to the extreme with endorphin release and engage in reckless behavior (like drug use, crime, or dangerous sports) that ends up catapulting you into a lifestyle filled with danger.
And lastly, there’s serotonin. Serotonin is one of the most influential neurotransmitters in your brain. It is linked to all kinds of processes, including helping to regulate mood, balance energy levels, control motor function, modulate how you feel, influence appetite, and even exert some control over cardiovascular function.
Many people who experience trauma and anxiety related to trauma end up having low levels of serotonin and thus being able to modify how much is released can help alter levels of perceived happiness.
So, in telling you all that, what I’m prepared now to do is give you evidence-based, easy, and proven ways to boost these hormones, in the right amounts, so that you can start feeling happier.
6 Ways to Boost Your Levels Of Perceived Happiness
In reality, I could have written dozens upon dozens of ways to help with boosting these hormones and neurotransmitters.
But, I didn’t want to get too far into the weeds and I figured I’d use what I know has the most impact.
In fact, some of these you can do as soon as you finish this article.
1 - Go Outside:
Part of the reason I’m writing this article is because I just finished another article on how being outside is one of the best ways to prevent a myriad of diseases. It turns out, it’s also incredibly good at helping to influence your mood.
Connection with the outdoors, getting vitamin D, moving your body, and allowing yourself to relax in the natural environment.
The primary way being outside helps improve mood is through promoting the production of serotonin. If your unhappiness stems from some kind of mental defect, being outside may help significantly.
2 - Exercise:
I would say that exercise is one of the strongest contributors to overall happiness.
While it’s not explicitly covered in the hormone/neurotransmitter conversation, the simple act of working out gives you the perceived notion that you’re doing something good for yourself, and that kind of self-care can reap many rewards emotionally.
Additionally, you can get releases of dopamine and endorphins through exercise. This is especially true when you commit to a program and set goals for yourself and knock them out.
3 - Give Someone a Hug:
Does this seem too easy?
Well, it is. But it works really well to help you with oxytocin levels. Hugging and being close to friends, family or significant others helps with connection.
The one thing about this is you can’t just do a side hug or let go quickly. Ideally, you want to form a connection and the research says 20 seconds or longer.
4 - Eat Well:
So many ailments in the world can be traced back to what we eat. I’ve obviously been committed to help my patients and my readers understand how important food is, and now as you may conclude, there’s a strong link between food, and mood.
If you eat whole foods, animal-based and organic fruits, and vegetables and stay away from inflammatory foods it helps with serotonin and dopamine release.
Plus, without the right foods, your body can’t form the proteins necessary to make the other two happiness chemicals endorphins and oxytocin.
5 - Express Gratitude:
If you want to be happy, the more you express gratitude the happier you could become!
Psychology Central notes that:
There’s a scientific basis for the statement that gratitude helps increase happiness, demonstrating that it also helps protect you from negativity, stress, depression, and anxiety. Everyone has something in their life to be grateful for. Most of us have many, many blessings. A simple ritual of daily reflection is enough to center in on them and allows us to take a few moments to express personal gratitude for all that we have been given in life. Good health, loving family, satisfying relationships, an enjoyable career – the list is endless and highly personal.
I think when you begin to focus on what’s going right in your life it will improve how you feel, overall, and this will make you “feel happier.”
6 - Serve Another:
The act of giving up your time for someone else does two things.
It frees you up from your own myopic view of yourself, and expands your ability to be empathetic which can allow you to feel less distressed by your own situation.
And, it helps you release oxytocin through social bonding. This sense of connection will help keep a healthy balance of this hormone flowing through your bloodstream and help you feel better.
Will You Choose “Happiness?”
As I said, happiness is the wrong word to use when I talk about feeling better and having a better quality of life.
But, it’s easy to get your head around being happy.
I didn’t mention supplements here for a reason.
I want you to realize that your health is far more dependent on the choices you make daily than the pills you take daily.
Yes, they definitely can help, but they are merely meant to supplement good habits and I hope you can see that these habits are far more important than a pill, even if that pill is quite beneficial.