Your Personal Happiness Quartet

How happy we feel is strongly influenced by 4 neurotransmitter chemicals: endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. They are often called “the quartet.”

Endorphin on Electric Guitar, Serotonin on Sax, Dopamine on Drums, Oxytocin on Oboe

Here’s a very basic idea of what they do for you and 7 ways to help boost your happiness:


They promote a sense of well-being, lesson pain and are primarily released when we are in pain or stressed.  Endorphins work in similar ways as prescription anti-anxiety drugs and opiate painkillers but provide the benefits without all the side-effects.

Low levels of endorphins are linked to opposite effects: physical and emotional pain (including chronic pain linked to disorders like fibromyalgia), addiction and risk taking behavior.

Serotonin is often called the “happy hormone”.  It improves your mood and helps beat depression.  Not only does it help with mood stabilization but plays a big role in getting good sleep, dreaming, emotional and social stability.

Low levels serotonin are associated with various mental disturbances including: depression, anxiety, PMS,  sugar/carbohydrate cravings, trouble sleeping, obsessive thinking and addiction to alcohol or drugs. Too high levels can be  problematic as well.


Dopamine is one of the strongest “feel-good hormones”.   It makes you feel energized, alert, motivated and in control.  Within the brain, dopamine helps control the reward and pleasure centers as well as helping regulate movement and emotional responses.  Interestingly, it enables us to not only see rewards, but to take action to reach them. 

Dopamine deficiency is implicated in Parkinson’s Disease and people with low dopamine levels may be more prone to addiction.  Low levels can trigger depression, lack of concentration (brain fog), poor motivation and difficulty initiating and/or completing tasks.


Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone” since it’s released during highly emotional moments, such as  childbirth, being in love, and during orgasm. It motivates us to strengthen personal relationships, be faithful and facilitates compassion.  Oxytocin is a powerful hormone, produced mainly in the hypothalamus, and acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain

On the flip side, as a facilitator of bonding among those who share similar characteristics, oxytocin fosters distinctions between “in-group” and “out-group” members, and sets in motion favoritism toward “in-group” members and prejudice against those in “out-groups”.

7 ways to get the “Happiness Quartet”

working more for you:

We are all capable of producing our own natural highs (without taking illegal or prescription drugs) and when we repeat  behavior that facilitates the release of neurotransmitters we become naturally motivated to create positive habits.

1.  Tasting

Neurotransmitters that signal the release of endorphins come mostly from nutrients in our diet, like amino acids, vitamins, fatty acids and minerals. 

Serotonin is made primarily through intake of tryptophan-rich foods, such as turkey or milk. Most proteins will help release serotonin, including meat, fish, chicken, poultry, cheese, milk and eggs, which are complete proteins. A number of different plant foods, such as beans with sprouted grains, will get the same effects. Whole foods like seeds, nuts, beans, lentils, peas, corn or the germ of grains, such as buckwheat and oats, are all good plant sources of amino acids that help increase serotonin.

Fats comprise 60 percent of the brain. Essential fatty acids support the activity of neurotransmitters, including serotonin. Get healthy fats from coconut or olive oil, wild-caught fish like Alaskan salmon, nuts, seeds and avocado.

2.  Laughing

Laughter is a quick-fix for feeling almost instantly better, thanks to the release of endorphins.  Studies have even linked laughter with an elevated pain threshold. Try regularly doing something to keep your sense of humor: play with children, watch funny shows, recall a funny moment, share jokes, spend time with friends who have a sense of humor.

3.  Connecting

Give a hug, get a massage or simply have a deep conversation with someone you trust will all help release oxytocin and other chemicals that help you feel calm and comforted.  Some studies show acupuncture and other hands-on treatments  have similar effects. Make time for friends, reach out to others in need, find a sense of purpose and notice how good you feel when you do something nice for someone else.

4.  Learning

Every time you experience something novel or learn something new dopamine’s reinforces you.  With the internet, learning is at your fingertips.  Use your techno-time to look up something that peaks your curiosity,  travel, take up a hobby or get better at something you already do and release feel good neurochemicals.

5.  Smelling

The release of endorphins helps you feel calmer almost instantly when you smell the aroma of something that reminds you of fun or comforting times.  It can be as simple as the scent of fresh baked cookies, a parent’s favorite perfume or a dab of essential oil scents such as vanilla, chamomile, rose and lavender.  Your nose, after all, is close to your brain.

6.  Sunning & Nature

Sunshine and nature sites/sounds/colors seem to help regulate the release of serotonin and melatonin.  It only takes about 20 minutes a day to help your skin produce vitamin D (sunscreen will block this), which is important for your mood.  Studies indicate that exercising outdoors elevates mood better than indoors.

7.  Moving

A large body of research shows that people who exercise regularly have added protection against depression, reduce anxiety and get better sleep.  Exercise is one of the most endorphin-boosting things we can do. It also increases self esteem, gives a sense of mastery, increases energy levels, and thanks to dopamine, keeps you motivated to continue and improve.   You don’t have to do 10,000 steps or do intense workouts.  Research indicates that 3 times a week of brisk walking will do the trick.

Putting into practice all 7 ways to get the Happiness Quartet working for you:  

Eat a hardboiled egg while walking for 20 minutes in the park with a trusted friend, practice speaking Mandarin Chinese, laugh at your bad pronunciation and stop occasionally to smell the flowers.  How easy is that!




What you don’t know can’t hurt you – AVOID these 6 things.

 How to Save Your Precious energy,  lower your level of confidence, decrease productivity and be dumber. Start by avoiding 6 simple things and be on your way!

Stop reading! (no, not this post, stop reading books)

  1. People who read often gain empathy for others, somethings that is helpful if you want to be an effective leader, which as we all know takes inordinate energy that can be used more effectively. Reading also keeps you mentally sharp which can be painful in troubled times. Dumb and dull can be cultivated. Try just laying about.

2. Do not sleep so much!

With less sleep your ability to plan, reason, organize and make decisions decreases. Neuroscientists have found that after being awake for 16 hours your ability to focus and your executive-function decrease. BUT your awake time will allow you to stream more favorite shows.  If you question this stay awake as long as you can and watch your productivity lower as your entertainment time increases.

3. No more fruits and vegetables!

Mental energy is affected by what you eat.  Getting a lot of micronutrients, minerals and vitamins you get from foods, such as fruits and vegetables, helps give you health and energy to be more productive. Stay away from them if you are already too energetic. Stick with cakes and cookies for short term boost instead (Read about that here).

4. Do not look at new ideas . . .

. . .  or go to new places. Stay with the familiar and do not look to other fields for inspiration. Doing novel things can change your brain chemistry and even the way you see the world. Curiosity can make you more productive and expand your world but will take away from valuable Facebook and Twitter time.  Remember!  What you don’t know can’t hurt you.

5. Quit learning!

Stay in your comfort zone where it is familiar and stress free.  That is where your mind will go soft, your memory less sharp and you can relax.  The Journal of Psychological Sciences published research showing that activities that demand hard thinking and new activities improves your memory. BUT who needs memory to enjoy the mundane . . . so do not take up new hobbies, learn a new useless language or play a musical instrument badly . . .

6. No more exercising!

When you get your body moving, you’re creating energy.  Yes, it will also lead to increased productivity, crease confidence, helps with aging, mental and physical health but it takes up your valuable time.  Even walking 30 minutes a day can ruin your chances of catching your favorite show or reading the latest “tweet”.

Adapted from:

6 Tiny Habits That Will Make You Smarter, Confident, and More Productive
Attaining and keeping a level of high performance requires a commitment to these 6 tiny habits.

By Julian Hayes II







A Hug a Day Brings Happy Your Way!

National Hugging Day TM

January 21st

1)    Hugs make us feel “happy”! When we hug another person, our bodies release oxytocin, a hormone associated with “happiness,” according to scientific studies.

2)    Hugs alleviate stress! Just as a good hug increases our oxytocin levels, it decreases our cortisol or “stress” levels.

3)    Babies need hugs as much as water and food! According to researchers at Harvard University, hugs help promote normal levels of cortisol necessary for child development.

4)    Hugs make us better students! Students who receive a supportive touch from a teacher are twice as likely to volunteer in class.

5)    Hugs improve our game! Scientists at University of California, Berkley discovered that the more affectionate members of a team are with each other, the more likely they are to win.

Snug Hug by Peggy

6)    A hug a day keeps the doctor away! A hug stimulates the thymus gland, which in turn regulates the production of white blood cells that keep us healthy and disease-free.

7)    A hug stops the bug! Researchers at Carnegie Mellon proved that individuals who were sick and received hugs had less severe symptoms and were able to get better quicker.

8)    A hugging heart is a healthy heart! Research from University of North Carolina showed that a good hug helps ease blood flow and lower cortisol levels, which in turn help lower our heart rates.

9)    A hugging couple is a happy couple! Couples that experience their partners’ love through physical affection share higher oxytocin levels.

10)    Hugs let someone know you care without having to say a word! According to Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, we can identify love from simple human touch – imagine how much love a big hug can communicate!




Name it, Blame it and feel happier

A favorite strategy to feel better, feel happier is backed by neuroscience, requires no Rx, practically no time nor physical energy.

When feeling angry, stressed, sad, lonely all you need to do is give your feeling a name to defuse it.

David Rock* explains:
“To reduce arousal, you need to use just a few words to describe an emotion, and ideally use symbolic language, which means using indirect metaphors, metrics, and simplifications of your experience. This requires you to activate your prefrontal cortex, which reduces the arousal in the limbic system. Here’s the bottom line: describe an emotion in just a word or two, and it helps reduce the emotion.”

“fMRI studies support this idea.  Participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Each participant’s amygdala activated to the emotions in the picture. But when they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact.”

Here are some Peggyjudy ways you can NAME IT-BLAME IT and feel HAPPIER:

Call your emotion a Silly Name

  • Fantastically futile funk
  • Silly Sally Sad
  • Fangry Angry
  • Mumifiably Mad
  • Fraiday-Cat Fear

Draw a stick figure or an “emoji”

Metrics – Washed over by Emotion

  1. Give your emotion a number from 1 – 10 points.
  2. 1 = Ripple  5=Body-surfing wave  10=Tzunami
  3. Each minute after assigning a number to your emotion subtract 1 point until you are down to a ripple.

Pick a Mad Metaphor

Fit to be Tired by Peggy

  • I’m fit to be tied
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Fly off the handle
  • Blow a gasket, blow a fuse
  • Up in arms
  • In a black mood
  • Go ballistic

Pick a Fear Metaphor

  • Trembling like a leaf
  • Like a deer (or a mouse) in headlights
  • A shivering wreck. 
  • Paralysed with terror. 
  • Scared silly

Pick a Sad Metaphor

Woofer’s Sinking Heart by Peggy

  • Down in the mouth
  • Feeling low
  • Feeling blue
  • In a black mood
  • Gloomy Gus
  • My heart sank.
  • In the depths of despair.


You are hereby notified that the stunts and tricks displayed in this post are performed by professional animals and stick figures in controlled environments, such as closed circuit dark roads at midnight. Do not attempt to duplicate, re-create, or perform the same or similar stunts and tricks at home, as personal injury or property damage may result. All animals were paid scale-wage treats and none were harmed in the production of this post. The authors of this post are not responsible for any such injury or damage.


*David Rock,  Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long

Happy is as Happy Does and a Hack

Compassion makes you feel better.  I saw this first hand when I worked in an outpatient program with people diagnosed with severe psychiatric disorders – schizophrenia, manic depressive disorder and major depression.  Many had been hospitalized more than once.

My goal was to help patients manage their illness, so they could stay out of the hospital  and live a more normal life. Besides many of the things the program offered to help them, including medication, I believed if I could help them be happier, have more positives in their lives, some of the stressors they felt would be offset and help them stay well.

Acts of Kindness by Peggy

I had read a research project using compassion exercises and decided to try it. It worked well in the research and I hoped it worked for the patients. Here’s what I did:

Week 1: I asked the patients to spend an hour being really good to themselves, something to pamper themselves. It didn’t matter what they chose as long as they personally enjoyed it.  When they shared everyone expressed liking their experiences and felt happy they participated.

Week 2: The patients were to take the same amount of time – an hour – and do something nice for somebody else, something to brighten someone else’s day.  It didn’t matter who they chose or what they did as long as it was something kind and giving.  When they shared this experience they were even happier!  All reported they felt better doing something nice for somebody else for an hour than doing something for themselves.

Caring for others, having compassion, can make you happier. You don’t have to wait weeks between.  Do something nice for yourself for an hour one day.  The next day do something nice for another person.  It doesn’t even have to be for an hour.  Try it and see for yourself.  And let us know how it goes.

Compassion Hack

According to brain science Buddhist monks are some of the happiest people in the  world.  They are don’t leave their monasteries and do things for others, but meditate on compassion.  Research shows compassion meditation changes the brain and makes it happier!

Don’t have an hour to do something nice for someone else?  Spend 10 – 20 minutes and meditate on compassion . . . Remember – It’s a hack NOT a substitution for the real thing.



How Healthy Couples Manage Conflict – Part I

Scientific research keeps pointing to maintaining connections with others as a key to living longer and healthier.  This article is a basic guide for managing the inevitable conflict that comes in the most intimate relationships we have.

Couple Differences by Peggy

How Healthy Couples Manage Conflict


Healthy couples address the conflict.

“Some partners shut down and give each other the silent treatment or avoid the problem in other ways, said Bush, also author of the book 75 Habits for a Happy Marriage: Advice to Recharge and Reconnect Every Day. However, healthy couples are “willing to talk about what’s going on.”

Healthy couples see conflict as an opportunity.

“They see [conflict] as a means for growing together… an opportunity to understand each other better and to clarify their needs and values,” Bush said.”

“The conflict doesn’t become a disconnect or a power struggle but an opportunity for both of them to create something new,” according to Harville Hendrix, Ph.D, co-creator of Imago Relationship Therapy with his wife Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D. It becomes an opportunity to have a conversation, he said.”

Healthy couples value each other’s perspective.

“Healthy couples believe that each partner has a valid point of view, whether they agree with them or not, said Hendrix, also author of several books on relationships, including the bestseller Getting the Love You Want. They realize that “there are legitimate differences and they understand that they don’t live in each other’s brains.”

Healthy couples consider their contribution to the conflict.

“Partners in healthy relationships “own their own stuff,” Bush said. They’re willing to look at how they’re contributing to the problem, she said.”

Healthy couples fight fair.

“Unlike unhealthy couples, they don’t name-call, insult, curse or hit below the belt, Bush said. They also don’t “bring up every problem that’s ever occurred.”

“Instead, “they stick to the issue at hand and have a respectful, curious attitude.” Instead of being defensive and focusing on explaining themselves, they’re interested in what their partner has to say.”

Healthy couples really listen.

“They give each other their undivided attention. They don’t interrupt or make remarks such as “That’s not right” or “Where did you get such a stupid idea?” Hendrix said. Rather, they are “fully … present to their partner’s point of view.”

Healthy couples kiss and make up.

“Typically, after an argument, healthy couples end up feeling supported, heard and understood, Bush said. Partners might apologize or say something like “I love you. We’re in this together,” she said.”


A list like this can be daunting.  Make an assessment, figure out one or two areas to focus on.  You and your partner don’t have to choose the same area.  

Keep it in your conscious awareness so that when you “slip up” you can make a correction.  Learning is not about doing it perfectly.  It’s about making mistakes and making the corrections over and over.

*Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., is an Associate Editor at Psych Central. She also explores self-image issues on her own blog Weightless and creativity on her blog Make a Mess: Everyday Creativity.


Your first chance to help us win and you to not win

“OK I signed up but please no mug.  I prefer to be a loser.” (RC)

Remember our last drawing MUG on a MUG?  After PLEADING with friends and colleagues to “follow” CATNIPblog I received the above message from my grade-school crush (who shall remain nameless but knows who he is . . . cuz I told him.)

Many of you have made it abundantly clear you don’t want things, so DO NOT MISS THIS OPPORTUNITY to not get anything!


Announcing the no-giveaway-once-in-a-full-moon opportunity to invite your friends and family to FOLLOW CATNIPblog and receive nothing at all in return except for . . .

. . . Peggy & Judy’s unabashed gratitude cuz they do not want to spend the last remaining days of their lives typing their little fingers to the bone, creating uproariously funny drawings and taxing their little brains trying to figure out how to get more readers.

Looking for blog “Followers” by Peggy

Here’s all you have to do to insure you never have to apologize to Peggy & Judy with lame excuses like they’ve already heard:

  • I don’t know what a blog is.
  • I don’t have a computer
  • I can’t find the “follow” box even though you have told me it’s in the upper right hand corner of the blog.

join my grade-school crush (who continues to remain nameless).  Send this link to your friends and family to FOLLOW CATNIPblog.  And if they are allergic to cats FOLLOW CURIOUS TO THE MAX where almost none of Judy’s drawings have fur, much less clothes.  (Click here for what I’m talking about.)

Join hundreds of other wonderful fellow-followers on the CATNIPblog of OFFICIAL LOSERS – you will receive nothing, at no time, nohow in perpetuity.”

Black hole of cyber-space

PLLLLLLLEEEEEEEEEEZ tell your friends and family to FOLLOW so Peggy & Judy can start the new year knowing all their hard work isn’t being sucked into the black hole of cyber-space without proper appreciation.

They don’t even have to read any of the posts . . .  we’ll never know.


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