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:

ENDORPHINS 

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
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

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

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!

 

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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 https://www.inc.com/julian-hayes-ii/6-habits-high-performers-use-to-stay-sharp-confident-productive-according-to-neuroscience.html

 

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Want to be happy? Eat Your Dessert First

We’ve all fallen into thinking “I will be happy when ___________”.  Sometimes it’s a mind set we’ve been taught: Eat your vegetables before you can have dessert;  There’s no time for happiness just “hard” work.  Often it’s simply paddling as fast as we can to keep our head above water.

Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, maintains we need to get happy first and success will be easier for when we are in a good mood we work better, are more creative, and cope better.

The neurochemistry says it all
“Positive emotions flood our brain with dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that not only make us feel good, but dial up the learning centers of our brains to higher levels. They help us organize new information, keep that information in the brain longer, and retrieve it faster later on. And they enable us to make and sustain more neural connections, which allows us to think more quickly and creatively, become more skilled at complex analysis and problem solving, and see and invent new ways of doing things.”

Heels over Head by Peggy

Smple activities that will increase the “happy” neurotransmitters in your brain.

Recall a memory of something happy or funny
Take a brisk walk
Watch a funny video clip or cartoon
Hang out with someone who makes you smile

Proven ways to increase happiness which take a bit more time and effort:

1. Meditation (Joy on Demand”, a book on easy ways to meditate)

2. Think of something you can look forward to doing

 3. Perform an act of kindness

Acts of Kindness by Peggy

4.Modify your physical environment (go outside in nice weather, surround yourself with pictures that remind you of loved ones, happy times, trips, read positive magazines, books, videos or surround yourself with objects or symbols that bring a smile.

5. Exercise 20 – 30 min. 3X week

6. Create & nurture relationships.

 7. Use your skills and do something you enjoy

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Did you know: Sitting most of the day may lead to an early grave?

 Ai yi yiiiiii.  We spent the majority of our lives as “professional sitter-downers”.  As psychotherapists the only thing we were really concerned about was being sued, stalked or otherwise putting our licenses in jeopardy. Little did we know sitting and listening to people might have led to our early demise.

“Adults who are inactive much of the day may be more likely to die prematurely than people who don’t sit around a lot, regardless of their exercise habits, a U.S. study suggests.”

(Reuters Health)

People may also be less likely to die young if they break up sedentary time by moving around every half hour than if they remain seated for longer stretches of time without getting up, the study also suggests.

For the study, researchers examined data on 7,985 adults, age 45 and older, who were asked to wear accelerometers to measure activity levels for one week.

“We think these findings suggest that it is simply not enough to be active or move at just one specific time of the day, that is, exercise,” said lead author Keith Diaz of the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

“We need to be mindful of moving frequently throughout the day in addition to exercising,” Diaz said.

“Persons with uninterrupted sedentary bouts of 30 minutes or more had the highest risk for death if total sedentary time also exceeded 12.5 hours per day,” noted Alter. “Conversely, in those whose daily sedentary volumes were low, uninterrupted bout lengths had little if any associated effects on mortality.”

“It’s possible that prolonged sedentary stretches might hasten death by causing what’s known as metabolic toxicity, said Dr. David Alter, head of cardiovascular and metabolic research for the University Health Network-Toronto Rehabilitation Institute in Canada.”

“The lack of activity in our muscles affects our ability to metabolize our sugars efficiently,” Alter, author of an accompanying editorial, said by email. “Over time, our body accumulates excess fat, which can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and death.”

From now on this blog will be written, illustrated and edited in a standing position . . . the good news is that we didn’t die young.

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Positively Tuesday – 6 best FREE doctors in the world

Research continues to focus on these six things to live a healthy life:

SUNLIGHT – Vitamin D is necessary for health.  (Hang out with lizards).

REST – 7-8 hours restorative sleep a night helps your brain. (Try cat-napping).

EXERCISE – Our bodies are meant to move.  (Climb a tree, chase a mouse).

winner-julian-rad

Photo by Julian Rad

DIET – Eat protein at every meal, it’s food for the brain. (Mice are tasty).

SELF-CONFIDENCE – Accomplish something everyday, even if it takes 12 tries (which is a cat’s average number of attempts to catch one mouse).

FRIENDS – People with social connections live longer and are healthier.  (Hang out and howl with other cool cats).

 

 

5 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO CHEER UP QUICKLY, ACCORDING TO NEUROSCIENCE

Pick yourself up and dust yourself off.  Easier said than done.  When I’m “down” I often just want to wallow in my misery, lick my wounds and feel sorry for myself.  It’s easier just to brood.  

There are, however, easy things to do that actually alter your brain neurochemistry to help you feel better .   When you get tired of brooding:

1. Go for a Walk outside.

Moving releases feel-better neurotransmitters.  Research  shows that if you walk outdoors, somewhere green,  the effect is enhanced.  scientifically proven to make you feel better. 

Journal Writing by Peggy

2. Vent Your Frustrations Into a Journal

Get paper and pen and write whatever comes to your mind, and no matter what it is, just keep writing. Even if it’s just, “This is stupid. Why am I doing this? Need to take out the garbage,” Focus on your frustrations. Write for a minimum of 20 minutes so your unconscious takes over.  Once you’ve done a mind-dump your brain can move on .

3. Call a Friend or Family Member

You may not want to burden anyone else with your bad mood but sometimes a friend or family member is needed . Let them know up front you don’t need advice just a listening ear. It helps you feel not so alone, lets your brain “objectively observe” whatever is stressing you . . . and knowing there are people who care can help shift your perspective.

Cat ‘n Mouse Phone Chat, by Peggy

4. Practice Gratitude

A simple way to stop feeling sorry for yourself and dwelling on everything that is going wrong is to focus on what is going right. Write down 3-5 things in your life, or on that day, that you are grateful for. . . .  look for things you take for granted: indoor plumbing, no toenail fungus (that is, of course if you have indoor plumbing and toenails)  . . .  the more you practice gratitude, the more you experience it.

5. Laugh Out Loud in Front of a Mirror

This sounds a bit weird BUT your laugh muscles signal the brain to release positive neurochemicals.   Even if you just smile broadly it works.  

If you want the easiest way to feel better check out an over-the-counter remedy Click here: Rx for Gratitude

More? Four easy ways to get happy 

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Symptoms of Happiness

I was embarrassed!

Patients who had just been released from the hospital’s psychiatric unit caught me red-handed.   I was leading a group therapy session about how important it is to focus on the positive – what you want instead of what you do not want. I went on and on explaining that when we think negatively the neo-cortex part of our brains triggers neuro-chemical emotions which correspond to those thoughts.

Not happy

Not happy

I smoothly seque-wayed into explaining what the many symptoms of depression are. The patients had been listening,  and stopped me and not so diplomatically pointed out I was focusing on the negative. Lesson learned!  MY lesson learned.

The group decided that instead of learning symptoms of depression, they would create a list of  symptoms of happiness.  

 Here’s their list:

Symptoms of Happiness

  1. Feeling good (or at least “decent”) most of the day, for two weeks or more.
  2. Eating an appropriate amount of food with good appetite.
  3. Sleeping well and awakening refreshed.
  4. Taking pleasure in most everyday activities and enjoying fun activities.
  5. Having a good energy level most of the day, every day, for two weeks or more.
  6. Having thoughts of fun or of good times to come.
  7. Being able to concentrate on the activity on hand.
  8. Feeling that one’s life matters.
  9. Able to exercise three times a week for half an hour, or more.
  10. Socialize in person or on the phone with 5 to 7 people each week. ( texting counts too)
  11. Laugh or at least smile every day.
  12. tailupsmall

    Happy is as Happy Thinks

How many happiness “symptoms” do you have?

(even one is a start).

PA

Linda commented (below): Feeling grateful, enjoying nature, feeling loved, able to say “life is wonderful”.

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