Did you know that all happiness, all the happiness that we feel and seek, is centered around a little more than half a dozen brain chemicals?
Which means that the more we understand about these chemicals and how they work, the better we can be at managing them. And the better we are at manging them, the happier we can make ourselves.
Simple, right? Not quite, unfortunately. But still pretty close. If we take the right approach to love and to happiness, these chemicals reward us with even greater happiness.
Here are what are considered to be the most important happiness chemicals in the brain:
Dopamine, the reward molecule, is responsible for pleasure seeking. It focuses on the reward-pleasure interaction. If we achieve something we strive for, it causes us pleasure. Which is why it’s believed that the more goals we set for ourselves, and achieve, the more dopamine our brain produces. A virtuous circle is created.
And more dopamine means more pleasure, or happiness. Ever think about the little rush you get when someone likes something you posted on Instagram? That’s dopamine at work, and it’s largely responsible for motivation.
The downside of dopamine is its addictive nature. The high is usually fleeting and then we quickly want more. How often do you keep checking on a post to see how many more people like it?
Oxytocin, sometimes called the hugging drug, is the chemical behind human bonding friendships, relationships, social connections, romance, and love. For example, higher levels of oxytocin are detected in people who are more romantic.
“The science of what causes happiness shows that you have the power to change your thoughts.” Tony Robbins
A lack of contact with people, or social connections, has been shown to reduce the levels of oxytocin and increase cravings for it. That’s how we miss people when they’re not around. Want to increase oxytocin? Learn to be more social.
Endorphin is the chemical that manages pain, the body’s own morphine. Endorphins are produced in the pituitary gland and especially during physical exertion and sex. It’s also believed that acupuncture is a great way to stimulate these endorphins.
If you’ve ever experienced the “runner’s high” and that rush when you push past pain or complete challenging physical feats, that’s your endorphins kicking in.
GABA, the anti-anxiety molecule, helps us to regain calm. Anti-anxiety medications work by activating an increased production in GABA.
Serotonin is the confidence molecule, and “allows people to put themselves in situations that will bolster self-esteem, increase feelings of worthiness, and create a sense of belonging.” It’s also believed to play a role in things like pride and status.
The pursuit of meaningful and important goals or missions helps to stimulate the production of serotonin. Hence people who succeed in important or worthy missions often have greater confidence and self-esteem.
Serotonin helps leaders to excel – the better they do and the more status they achieve, the more they’re rewarded with serotonin. And the more their followers are inspired to enjoy the same rush.
And finally there’s adrenaline, the fight-or-flight hormone. Adrenaline triggers the release of epinephrine which in turns creates the rush of energy (glucose) that gives us that incredible “adrenaline rush” when we need it most.
On the downside, adrenaline is the negative side of stress. When the brain feels constant stress, it’s constantly creating adrenaline and energy. That can be exhausting (tiredness, fatigue, and burnout) and even toxic.
So, to be clear, these brain chemicals on their own won’t make you happy. You have to do things to trigger these happiness chemicals. Whether it’s setting and achieving goals, creating better friendships and relationships, or focusing on a meaningful and purposeful life, the harder you work on your happiness, the more your brain and its happy cocktails will reward you.