The happy chemicals
There are four chemicals in the brain that are particularly important for our happiness and wellbeing. Here’s what they do, and how you can make sure you’ve got enough.
Let’s start with the mood-booster, serotonin.
Serotonin is a chemical that helps stabilise mood, and when you’ve got the right levels of it, helps you feel happy. It’s made in our nerve cells, and is a neurotransmitter, which means it carries messages between cells in the brain and to other parts of the body. It has other functions too, such as influencing our appetite and digestion, memory function and playing a role in our sleep cycle. Although most of the serotonin in the body is actually found in the gut (we’ll come back to that), the chemical is most often thought of in the context of mental wellbeing. So how can you make sure you have enough of this mood-booster?
Getting outdoors and exercising are easy ways to increase and maintain a good level of serotonin. Not only because sunlight is important for serotonin production, but also because when you work out, your body releases tryptophan - an essential amino acid needed to make serotonin. Tryptophan is not produced naturally in the body; we get it from our diet. You can get it from meat, dairy and legumes. (One of the most tryptophan-rich foods is turkey.) Just consuming tryptophan in food isn’t enough though, producing serotonin is a complex process so you need to also be eating healthy fats and complex carbohydrates. Plus, it’s thought that your gut bacteria can influence serotonin production too; another argument for a balanced and varied diet. So, there are three easy steps to keep your serotonin levels boosted: get moving, get some sun and eat well.
Ok, on to the motivator, dopamine.
Like serotonin, dopamine is a neurotransmitter, but it acts slightly differently and is mostly found in the brain. Dopamine is related to pleasure, reward and motivation. It’s released when you do something you enjoy or when you achieve something, and it encourages you to do that thing again, because it feels good. A dopamine release can be triggered by touch, taste, smell, or even just the expectation of something you know feels good. If you feel like you need a boost, do something you know feels good. It could be achieving a small goal or an act of kindness for somebody else.
Next, the love drug, oxytocin.
Oxytocin is produced in the brain’s hormone-centre and helps regulate our stress response, and can promote trust and empathy. We produce oxytocin when we are meeting someone we like, or aroused, or in love - and it helps people bond in those situations. But you don’t need to be swept off your feet, oxytocin release is associated with smaller things; such as a hug, or even a gentle touch of the hand. Arguably the most important role oxytocin plays is during childbirth - it promotes contractions! How can you get more of it? Giving and receiving love and loving gestures (big and small) is the way to go.
Have you ever felt a buzz after lifting weights or going for a run?
You can thank endorphins for that, the body’s natural pain-relievers.
Endorphins are a group of hormones that are mostly released in response to pain or stress, but can also be released when you do continuous exercise, or even during sex. Their release makes you feel energised, or even euphoric. And yes, this is where the mystical runner’s high comes from - endorphin release can help you work through the pain when you’re pushing your body’s limits. So get moving, or, maybe get lucky, to feel that endorphin rush.
But none of these four chemicals are magic bullets. While they contribute to our happiness, we can in turn support their production but doing things you probably already do to feel good: eating a varied diet that includes different sources of protein and probiotic-containing foods; regular physical exercise; forming emotional connections with people and even animals; and managing your stress by resting and relaxing. It means that you have the power to influence your mood and wellbeing by the choices you make every day.
A nootropic drink like vive has the potential to give these chemicals a little kick when we need it most. Maybe to get out of that postprandial dip, or just for a little brain buzz without those coffee jitters. One of the ingredients in vive is L-theanine, an amino acid found in tea that can promote the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.
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