During this season of reflecting on victories and missed goals, accomplishments and missed opportunities, and looking ahead for the year, Hanna Matt visited Rancho La Puerta to share recent research from the field of Neuroscience, and how our we can create our own joy. “It begins with the understanding that our brain is like a medicine cabinet ready to release seven joy chemicals. We can influence their release,” says Hanna, “by the choices we make during our day and influence the joy and happiness we experience every day.”
The seven joy chemicals and a few of their attributes listed below:
- Dopamine- promotes alertness, energy, excitement, arousal, and reward.
- Oxytocin- sometimes called the “love hormone” for its ability to reward bonding, love, and friendship.
- Norepinephrine- increases alertness, arousal, energy, joy, and memory recall.
- Serotonin- helps regulate anxiety, happiness, calm, contentment, and wellbeing.
- Endorphins- helps create feelings of euphoria and sometimes felt as the runner’s high after exercise. It lifts your mood and helps block pain.
- Encephalin (also known as Enkephalin)- an antidepressant and painkiller.
- Endocannabinoids- creates a natural high, feel good, peace with the world, and only good side effects.
Maintaining a healthy balance of these joy chemicals will help you navigate stress in your life and find a healthy comfort zone of joy. If you want more happiness you can actively pursue the seven joy chemicals through these simple tools.
- Movement and exercise. Thirty minutes a day of aerobic exercise will greatly increase your life force and eliminate emotional blocks that prevent joy. You can have a runner’s high after a 30-minute workout and enjoy the feel-good euphoria of the endocannabinoids and endorphins in your body.
- Transform negative thoughts into positive ones. Most people have 35,000 negative thoughts a day. Be mindful of your thoughts and learn to pivot your thinking. When you find yourself in a negative funk, shift to solution based thoughts. We create negative thoughts based on a limited view of the facts. Negative thoughts release depressing chemicals. Complaining, blaming and shame are shaped by negative thoughts. Retrain your brain and focus on solutions, not problems. What can you learn from the experience to apply in the future? Intervene in your thought process and focus on positive experiences.
- Avoid rumination and comparing yourself to others. Obsessing and overthinking, like a negative tape loop of a story playing through your mind, causes depression and anxiety. Instead of the joy chemicals giving you a perk, your brain releases cortisol which is a real downer. Shift your story, change your activity and get a new perspective. Interrupt your negative thought pattern by making a cup of tea, or dive into a really engaging book, or call a trusted friend and redirect your attention. Avoid or modify situations that act like traps and trigger obsessions.
- Cultivate and nurture relationships. A key to happiness is to slow down and connect with others. This releases oxytocin, the bonding chemical. People who are isolated typically have higher levels of stress, depression, and frustration. Cultivate more healthy and meaningful friendships. Let go of relationships that spiral around negativity and replace them with ones that make you happy. Become an architect for your life and relationships by volunteering, taking a class, or joining a club. Take time to invest in yourself and your relationships
- Practice acts of kindness and compassion. Doing kind things for others can give you a “helpers high” with the release of oxytocin. People who are concerned for the well-being of others tend to lead happier and fuller lives. Interconnecting through acts of kindness and being of service can help relieve guilt, distress, and discomfort and lead to confidence, optimism, and sense of usefulness.
- Cultivate appreciation, gratitude, and thankfulness. Developing a practice of gratitude changes your biochemistry to one ripe with joy. Shifting your thoughts from negative to happy with “what can I appreciate now?” leads to more vitality, less exhaustion, and physical illness, sleeping better, feeling more connected, and more positive emotions. As you lay in bed or at when gathered for dinner verbalize the small efforts you made in your day. Another easy daily exercise is to write five things you are thankful for.
- Appreciate yourself. We tend to dwell on what we did wrong and obsess about it. This absolutely kills, kills, kills joy. Your brain is constantly looking for you to appreciate and respect yourself so it can release the joy chemicals. If you don’t give it reasons you may seek unhealthy behaviors to alter your mood. Self-esteem and self-honoring are important for the joy chemicals to be released. Putting yourself down causes personal suffering and no joy chemicals for you to enjoy. Simple victories are sometimes enough to stimulate appreciation. Write down what you ate healthy today, appointments you showed up on time, or a list of your strengths and how you used one of them.
- Learn to savor experiences during your day. The greater a person’s skill at savoring an experience, the greater the joy you may develop. Turn off the autopilot and appreciate some of the experiences from your day. Savoring our lives build resiliency, buffers stress, and strengthens our immune system. Some ways to enhance your day is to become absorbed in a moment, be mindful, eat slowly and methodically so you can appreciate the food and where it came from, open yourself to wonder and awe by going outside to admire your surroundings. People who savor the day tend to be more confident, satisfied, and happy in their lives.
- Get excited about something. What excites you? What makes you feel alive? Follow that inspiration and discover your purpose. The efforts toward a goal is more important than the goal and release dopamine, the alertness and excitement chemical. Your goals can be simple as an exercise goal or planting a small garden. 10 minutes a day of focused energy on planning, defining manageable steps, and taking action is usually enough. Enjoy the process. It’s the journey, not the destination that makes this rewarding.
- Learn something new every day. Make it a practice to learn something new every day to open and expand your world. Your brain triggers joy when it finds new ways to meet its needs; new food, new places, new techniques and ways of solving problems. 15 minutes a day of learning something new will trigger the medicine cabinet in your brain to open and release joy chemicals. Learn to say hello in new languages, research a country then plan a visit. Learn an instrument or take music lessons.
- Get your ZZZ’s. You need seven to eight hours sleep every night to recharge your batteries. Your joy chemicals are renewed while you sleep. Refill the cabinet with adequate rest and sleep. The quality of your sleep has a bigger influence on your life than income or marital status. To prepare yourself turn off your devices at 9 p.m. and read a book, have sleepy time tea, practice slow, deep breathing for ten minutes, or think of what you appreciate about your day.
You can see Part II here.