Yes, we’re all stressed, burned out and tense. However, a quick dose of happiness is five easy steps away.
Considering today is the International Day of Happiness, boosting your own only takes the slightest little bit of effort. Here’s the thing: your brain is just like any other muscle in your body. You have to regularly challenge it in order to keep it fit.
So, we’ve collated five tips from international transformation specialist Catherine Plano, to help you reactivate the brain functions that can help you feel happier and more content.
Tip #1: Dose up on dopamine
Dopamine is what generates the sensations of bliss, pleasure, euphoria and motivation. Dopamine is a chemical (neurotransmitter) that your nerves use to send messages throughout the body. Basically, when dopamine levels are depleted in your brain, your message can’t be transmitted properly, which in turn, can have an impact. When you procrastinate, have feelings of self-doubt or lack enthusiasm, these are strong clues from the brain that your dopamine levels are low.
The great news is, increasing your dopamine levels is a cinch. Simply aim for eight hours of sleep each night, and exercise regularly to keep your dopamine levels balanced. Also, because your brain releases a little bit of dopamine whenever you achieve or succeed, try and set yourself small, achievable goals.
Tip #2: Exercise for endorphins
Endorphins are released into your bloodstream once you have exercised, leaving you feeling more energised. Endorphins are the enemy of stress, so the more endorphins you release, the better you will feel. Along with regular exercise, laughter is one of the easiest ways to induce endorphin release, so if you’re feeling down in the dumps then kick back and enjoy some comedy, or catch up with someone who makes you laugh.
There are some studies that attest that dark chocolate and spicy foods can help to release endorphins, so maybe keep a stash of dark chocolate and treat yourself to a curry every now and then for a quick endorphin boost.
Tip #3: Get huggy!
Often referred to as the “cuddle hormone”, oxytocin is essential for creating powerful bonds and improving social interactions. Oxytocin is also the hormone that allows you to feel love and connection. In fact, when you experience an increase of oxytocin, it makes you more intuitive to others’ needs. Even when someone receives a gift, his or her oxytocin levels can rise, so it is possible to strengthen work and personal relationships through a simple gift or a massive hug.
Tip #4: Adopt an attitude of gratitude
Serotonin flows when you feel satisfied, accomplished and important. A lack of serotonin produces the reverse. Unhealthy attention-seeking behaviour can also be a cry for serotonin. Your brain can’t tell the difference between what’s real and imagined, so it produces serotonin in both cases. This is why “gratitude” practices are popular; they’ll remind you that you are valued and have much to feel thankful for.
If you need a serotonin boost during a stressful day, take a few moments to reflect on past achievements and victories. Alternatively, engage in a random act of kindness or write a text or email telling one of your friends or partner how much you appreciate and value them. You can also spend a minute or two “reliving” a moment in your head that you cherish. These are simple mood boosters, just because they increase serotonin. We also know that vitamin D (the sun) helps to expand our brain’s serotonin production.
Tip #5: Transform “fear” into “flow”
The amygdala is one of the “primal” functions of your brain, designed to keep you safe. This “fright, freeze and flight centre” manages connections and is directly involved with emotional wellbeing. The amygdala processes positive and negative feedback depending on how you perceive an outcome. As a result, it makes you feel strong emotional responses that often lead to impulsive reactions.
When the amygdala signals go backwards, it generates a fear response, leaving you feeling defensive, which can lead to lashing out or arguing. But it’s there in the amygdala where you store your old “programs” too; those tired old tales of lack or unworthiness…and, just as you put those “old stories” in there, you can reprogram and update them with new ones! This takes time, but the brain is highly adaptive and with daily commitment to a practice of positive thinking, it can become your default setting instead, ensuring the negative responses become fewer and weaker.
Achieving happiness is easier than you may realise. You simply need to understand these tools, and recognise that you are human and therefore you, like everyone else, are prone to mood fluctuations. There can be many reasons why some moods stay with you longer than others, but these tools can help you to work with – instead of against – your mind when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, sad or angry.
The brain needs stimulation. Tired old routines can deliver the same tired old results in your life, so stay curious. When you experience something “new”, it actually stimulates and transforms your brain.
Explore, experiment and try something new to maximise how you use your brainpower on this, the International Day of Happiness, and beyond!