Recently we had a conversation about the neuroscience of happiness, and obviously as neuroscience is, well…rather scientific and therefore maybe a little boring to explain to someone who doesn’t care about firing neurons in our brain, we thought that maybe many of our readers would feel the same about the subject of neuroscience and happiness.
What’s the use of neuroscience for happiness if you can’t DO something with it, right?
Well, you actually can. If you want to feel happier, you need to improve your neurochemical cocktail in your brain!
Being Happy Is A Mental State
But first things first. Finding happiness, or rather being happy is a mental state, therefore you don’t really find it, you are it, or not. However, as you will soon find out, there are ways to get you in that state more easily and more often.
Secondly, happiness can not precisely be defined as it is very personal and therefore different for everyone. For some people more money might be a very welcome mental trigger for more happiness. Yes we know, that’s totally contradictory to what every scientist, philosopher, guru and religious leader will tell you. They always say that money can’t buy you happiness and even if that’s true to some extend – because the pursue of more wealth might not make someone who has already a high standard of living more happy – it will sure make an immediate difference to the one that is fighting every month to get the bills paid, or worse trying to get food on the table…
For others, it might be health, loving relationships, finding their purpose in life, being of value, or a million other things, because “finding” happiness means you are either looking from outside to inside, or from inside to outside. If you are looking for validation from the people around you, you are in an outside to inside process. If you are looking for having more purpose in your life, and you can disregard what others think or have to say about your thoughts and ideas, then this might actually be an inside to outside process.
However we digress, finding happiness is about changing your circumstances to be more in keeping with the things you want from life. In this regard you can think of finding happiness as an ‘outside-in’ process, while at the same time you should approach it as very much an inside out process; both in terms of the way you think about your situation and in terms of the neuroscience and the neurochemical cocktail that can lead to you being either happier or less happy.
An Introduction to Neurotransmitters
Everything that happens inside our heads is essentially regulated by the firing of neurons. This is true when we experience something and also when we remember something. Essentially, specific neurons are encoding to trigger specific experiences or behaviors and when they fire, we then experience those things.
But neurons are not binary. They are not ‘on or off’ – they also transmit a little data that tells you how you should feel about what is happening inside your brain.
Dopamine for instance tells you something is rewarding and important and you should focus on it.
Cortisol tells you something is stressful.
Serotonin tells you something is positive and happy and makes you feel content.
Oxytocin is the ‘love’ hormone.
So these are the neurotransmitters and by and large, these are what are responsible for our feeling happy, angry, stressed, sad or otherwise at any given time.
How to be Happier
With many people looking for different things, related to how they would perceive happiness or what they would need to be able to say that they are “finally” happy, this is the one billion dollar question, isn’t it?
However, one way to do this is by ensuring that you are producing enough of the happiness hormones – specifically serotonin, oxytocin and other endorphins. We can do this simply by eating a more complete diet as our neurotransmitters are created and modulated by vitamins and minerals as well as amino acids. Specifically for instance, you can increase your serotonin by eating more foods with tryptophan and 5HT in it, because these are the chemical precursors to serotonin.
We mustn’t ‘pick and choose’ our favorite neurotransmitters though, but rather eat a balanced diet that will provide us with the materials for all our neurotransmitters.
At the same time, it’s important to make sure we learn to let go of the negative things that seem to overly bother us, and get into positive thinking habits so that we are looking at things in a more optimistic way. By doing so, we are reliving our positive memories more often which increases the ease to fire the triggers that ignite these specific neurotransmitters. You can accomplish this through CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) which teaches us how to change what we focus on and how we react to events.
Can we do more? Absolutely!
Here is a thought provoking video — Mindful360: the Neuroscience of Happiness — about happiness and well being where Certified Psychometrician Craig Calvert goes over proven mind & body techniques with guest Dr. Eva Rithbo to boost the neurochemicals in our brain that are tied to happiness and vitality.
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