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  • Gila Daman, MS, RDN, CDCES, LD

The Four Happiness Chemicals

In my previous post, I referenced the dopamine-driven feedback loop and how it can lead to excess screen time. Let’s now go deeper into understanding neurotransmitters and hormones and how they affect our mood and behavior.


First off, what are neurotransmitters and hormones?


Neurotransmitters are chemicals released in the nervous system while hormones are released into the bloodstream. Both produce changes in behavior—quickly by neurotransmitters, while the hormonal process is a slower one.


Today we are going to focus on the four happiness chemicals.


1) Dopamine

Dopamine influences motivation, addiction, attention, and concentration.

Healthy ways to trigger the release of dopamine include:

A) Break big goals down into small, specific goals and celebrate small victories.

B) Exercise—even light exercise, like going for a stroll.

C) Eat tyrosine-rich foods such as almonds, bananas, avocados, eggs, beans, fish, and chicken.

2) Serotonin

Feeling significant and valued is associated with high serotonin levels while loneliness and depression are associated with low levels.

Healthy ways to increase the flow of serotonin include:

A) Keep a gratitude journal

B) Think about your previous successes/achievements

C) Get outside! Sunlight causes our skin to produce vitamin D, which in turn triggers the release of serotonin. [Note: 15 minutes of sunlight is all you need for your daily dose of vitamin D (depending on skin tone). After that, it is important to protect your skin from UV-rays and apply sunblock!]

D) Eat foods rich in tryptophan such as salmon, poultry, eggs, milk, soy, and nuts.

3) Endorphins

Endorphins increase positive feelings and mask painful ones.

Healthy ways to trigger the release of endorphins are:

A) Go for a run or attend a high-intensity fitness class

B) Laugh out loud

C) Eat spicy food

4) Oxytocin

Oxytocin creates intimacy and trust. It bonds us to others and increases empathy.

Healthy ways to trigger the release of oxytocin are:

A) Hug

B) Cuddle

C) Get (or give) a massage

I hope you are able to apply some of these strategies for leading a healthier, happier life. When changing behavior, taking small, realistic steps is the way to go! Stay tuned for our next post, where we will discuss the hormone cortisol and how to manage stress.



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© 2016 Gila Health and Wellness, LLC

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