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!




Science says gratitude is good for your health (and ours too) & Anniversary Post Winners –

Curious Critters

Winners of our One-Year-Anniversary-Celebration Drawing

Claremary P. Sweeney,  Around ZuZu’s Barn

Kathy Whittam

Jessica-Lauren,  Mother is a Verb

Claremary, Kathy, Jessica,  Here’s what to do to pick out your prize:

  1. Click on this link to choose your prize:  ZAZZLE CATNIPblog Store
  2. E-mail your choice and mailing address to:

Being grateful for you AND ALL OUR FOLLOWERS helps us grow healthier and makes us feel so good.

Peggy, Judy & Freddie Parker Westerfield

and all the Curious Critters at Curious to the Max


*Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis.

Brain Myth – 100% Psycho Fact

We use only 10 percent of our brains . . . not

This has been repeated in pop culture for a century, implying that we have huge reserves of untapped mental powers. “But the supposedly unused 90 percent of the brain is not some vestigial appendix. Brains are expensive—it takes a lot of energy to build brains during fetal and childhood development and maintain them in adults. Evolutionarily, it would make no sense to carry around surplus brain tissue.”

Bird Brain by Peggy

1) “Brain imaging research techniques such as PET scans (positron emission tomography) and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) clearly show that the vast majority of the brain does not lie fallow. Indeed, although certain minor functions may use only a small part of the brain at one time, any sufficiently complex set of activities or thought patterns will indeed use many parts of the brain. Just as people don’t use all of their muscle groups at one time, they also don’t use all of their brain at once.”

2) “The myth presupposes an extreme localization of functions in the brain. If the “used” or “necessary” parts of the brain were scattered all around the organ, that would imply that much of the brain is in fact necessary. But the myth implies that the “used” part of the brain is a discrete area, and the “unused” part is like an appendix or tonsil, taking up space but essentially unnecessary. But if all those parts of the brain are unused, removal or damage to the “unused” part of the brain should be minor or unnoticed. Yet people who have suffered head trauma, a stroke, or other brain injury are frequently severely impaired. Have you ever heard a doctor say, “. . . But luckily when that bullet entered his skull, it only damaged the 90 percent of his brain he didn’t use”?”


Regardless of the exact version heard, the myth is spread and repeated, by both the well-meaning and the deliberately deceptive. The belief that remains, then, is what Robert J. Samuelson termed a “psycho-fact, [a] belief that, though not supported by hard evidence, is taken as real because its constant repetition changes the way we experience life.”


March 12-18, 2018 is Brain Awareness Week (BAW) is a nationwide effort organized by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and the Society for Neuroscience to promote the public and personal benefits of brain research.



Brain Awareness Week- Focus on this post to strength your brain muscle

Waste not, Want not

Stop using your mental skills – you’ll lose them.  It’s similar to losing physical skills – If you’ve ever had an arm or leg in a caste you know how muscles atrophy.

In middle age, after formal education is finished, careers established, children in school, we have a tendency to not challenge ourselves to  learning new things and our brain “muscle” is not stimulated.  Start learning again and “fuzzy” thinking sharpens up.  However, it takes motivation to stretch ourselves by working our brains hard – learning new things that may not be necessary for daily living or survival.

Clean & Jerk by Judy

The Good News

When you learn anything new your brain creates a brain map.   As you learn your brain map for the information or skill enlarges, becomes more efficient and unneeded pathways – thoughts or actions – drop out, leaving the essentials.

Your brain gets faster at the skill as the brain signals become sharper, more powerful.  To create more “brain muscle” you need concentrated focus, need to pay attention.  Striving and focus stimulate the brains attentional system, the nucleus basalis.  This area secretes acetylcholine which helps the brain make sharp memories.  People with mild cognitive impairment show very little acetylcholine in their nucleus basilis.

Even Better News

Even “old folks” can tune their brains by focused attention.  However, even more intense concentration than when younger is needed to get the brain chemicals going that regulate plasticity.

While genetic factors are 10%-15% responsible for the development of the degenerative brain disease, engaging in preventive activities such as reading, learning new professions, and trying to learn poetry by heart, are among the practices that can help deter the risk.


Source:  Norman Doidge “The Brain that Changes Itself”





Grape News! for memory decline

Sharon Bonin-Pratt is an artist, writer and one of the most compassionate people I know.  On her Ink Flare blog she often posts about her journey with her mother who has Alzheimer’s disease.  Shari’s poignant and  personal account has made me all the more aware of research and issues surrounding this punishing disease.

Since we believe that “food is medicine” here’s research that impacts not only Alzheimer’s but all brains.

Grape Friends by Peggy

“Consuming grapes twice a day for six months protected against significant metabolic decline in Alzheimer-related areas of the brain in a study of people with early memory decline. Low metabolic activity in these areas of the brain is a hallmark of early stage Alzheimer’s disease.”

“Study results showed a grape-enriched diet protected against the decline of metabolic activity. Additionally, those consuming a grape-enriched diet also exhibited increased metabolism in other areas of the brain that correlated with individual improvements in attention and working memory performance, compared to those on the non-grape diet. Results of the randomized controlled research study, conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles, were recently published in Experimental Gerontology.”

“The study examines the impact of grapes as a whole fruit versus isolated compounds and the results suggest that regular intake of grapes may provide a protective effect against early decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Daniel H. Silverman, lead investigator of the study. 

“In the study, subjects with early memory decline were randomly selected to receive either whole grape powder – equivalent to just 2 ¼ cups of grapes per day – or a polyphenol-free placebo powder matched for flavor and appearance. Cognitive performance was measured at baseline and 6 months later. Changes in brain metabolism, assessed by brain PET scans, were also measured at baseline and 6 months later.”

“The results showed that consuming grapes preserved healthy metabolic activity in the regions of the brain that are affected by the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease, where metabolic decline takes hold. Subjects who didn’t consume grapes exhibited significant metabolic decline in these critical regions. Additionally, those consuming the grape-enriched diet showed beneficial changes in regional brain metabolism that correlated to improvements in cognition and working memory performance.”

“Grape polyphenols help promote antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. Research suggests that grapes may help support brain health by working in multiple ways – from reducing oxidative stress in the brain to promoting healthy blood flow in the brain to helping maintain levels of a key brain chemical that promotes memory to exerting anti-inflammatory effects.”

Read the entire article, click here: Grapes Benefit Brain Health


The Pit In Your Stomach is Actually Your Second Brain

Decades ago, when every one of the ten thousand doctors I saw (ok, so I exaggerate  . . a bit) pronounced me “fit as a fiddle” despite the crushing pain, depression and fatigue I was experiencing. I decided the only explanation was my body was inhabited by alien creatures.  Turns out my diagnosis may have been close to the truth.

“As researchers turn their microscopes to these hidden environments, they have discovered something remarkable: There’s an entire ecosystem of bacteria and a vast neural network operating in our guts. This ecosystem is our second brain, and comprises some 100 million neurons, more than the spinal cord. This is not a thinking brain—it does not reason, write poetry, or solve multi-linear regressions—but mounting evidence suggests that your gut’s health strongly influences your mood.”

“The enteric nervous system is a mesh-like network of neurons that lines the entire digestive track. It causes the sensation of nervous butterflies or a pit in your stomach that are innate parts of our psychological stress responses. Up to 90 percent of the cells involved in these responses carry information to the brain rather than receiving messages from it, making your gut as influential to your mood as your head is. Maybe even more.”

Even crazier is that our second brain is actually only half of us. Inside the digestive system, the enteric nervous system mainly communicates with bacteria. These are completely separate creatures that make up our microbiome, and there are just as many of them inside of us as our own human cells.

“Our gut bacteria have evolved with us since birth. They help digest our food and fight off unfriendly outsiders like viruses and molds. To keep us healthy they need to be healthy and plentiful as well. When they’re not, we feel it: This biomass of bacteria communicates with important neurotransmitters embedded throughout our enteric nervous system to send messages that influence the way we feel.”

“This could herald good news for those who suffer from anxiety or depression. Studies indicate that those with healthy and diverse gut microbes are less likely to suffer from either malady. And many of us who grew up in too—clean environments, frequently took antibiotics, and ate junk food have a decidedly unhealthy microbiome. So changing one’s diet could well benefit far more than your waistline.”

“If you’ve seen the term “probiotics” recently, this is why. Probiotics are foods that nourish and promote your biome. They’re foods cultured with the strains of healthy bacteria. Yogurt is a cultured food. Unfortunately, many grocery store yogurts are little more than a thickened, sweetened milk product. But yogurt that lists strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis actually contain the healthy bacteria your gut needs. “Prebiotic” foods, meanwhile, support a healthy gut ecosystem in which your bacteria can thrive. Together, prebiotic and probiotic food help keep your second brain full of the vibrant bacterial community it needs to function.”

Some gut-healthy foods – yogurt, sauerkraut & dark chocolate

“How exactly these gut-healthy foods help manage depression is not yet totally clear. The science on the gut-brain connection is still young, especially as it relates to our mood. But studies continue to find promising correlations. There is evidence that a healthy gut can curb inflammation and cortisol levels, lower your reaction to stress, improve memory, and even reduce neuroticism and social anxiety.”

Your Microbiome is Invisibly Spewing YOU onto Others!


Article from Huffington Post






Cook it Up Kitty – What Kitty wants, Kitty gets. 

 Good News for Kitty!

Sugar Increases the “happiness” neurotransmitter serotonin.

This Valentine’s day give your sweetie something sweet.  It’s a good way to quickly lift the mood . . . in the short run*. 


Kitty knows

Eating refined sugars, with white flour, or other processed carbohydrates gives her the fastest serotonin boost. 

Three blue hearts. No one will notice if one is missing.

Kitty doesn’t know 

* In the long run sugar may set up an addictive craving cycle and is not healthy because her  blood sugar drops after a spike which causes her to eat more sugar cookies . . .

Two blue dotted hearts. No one will notice if one is gone.

But for one special day a year Kitty can indulge!

(and . . . read my poem I wrote just for YOU

Frankly Freddie -Valentine’s Day)

Freddie Parker Westerfield, CDP Canine Dog Poet