How to feel happy right now

Bee on Bottle Brush Flower“Today I feel absolutely great,” I told my friend M. the other day, excited about conquering the fall blues.

M. said, “Is your period over?”

Pause.

M. went on, “Why do I feel like I’ve just told you that there’s no Santa?”

So my wonderful state of well-being was just a chemical reaction.

That same day I came across a story about seven hormones that regulate our happiness. I quickly found familiar symptoms of their deficiencies that I had experiences in the past and written it off as laziness, grumpiness and b*tchiness, among other things. It turns out that as with any addition, it’s all about getting your fix.  (Here we can talk about how it’s all about the balance, but I like the fix idea better. Besides, it’s more realistic.)

I am not a scientist, just a translator, and I understand that hormones have numerous functions and are part of a complex system. So this is just a primer in case you need to feel better right now.

Serotonin – the main character in the happiness drama. Its levels rise when you feel euphoric and fall when you feel depressed. It also determines our resistance to stress. How to get some: sunlight, physical activity, especially outdoors, eating cheese, beans, bananas, tomatoes, oats and prunes. Tea and coffee also contain chemicals that raise serotonin. Quick fix: something sweet, but not too much.

Acetylcholine – the hormone of creativity. It’s responsible for our ability to concentrate and come up with solutions. It’s released when we’re dealing with a challenging task. Once we solve it, we often feel joy and satisfaction. Puzzles and yoga are alternative methods of getting some.

Vasopressin – the hormone of attractiveness. It regulates water retention, among other functions. When we have enough of it we feel good about the way we look, about our hair, skin, weight. The easiest way to boost it is to do things that make you feel attractive – get a haircut, pedicure, massage, etc. And to tell yourself that you are gorgeous.

Dopamine – the hormone of lightness of being. It promotes clear thinking and reduces pain. When we don’t have enough of it we feel sluggish and uninterested in life. There may be heaviness in the feet and overall difficulty to move. To boost it up try aerobic and stretching exercises, dancing, playing musical instruments, and tackling a new challenge.

Norepinephrine – the hormone of a narrow escape, works in tandem with adrenaline. It’s responsible for the feeling of joy and ease when a scary situation is over and the pulse and blood pressure come down to normal. Without a fight-and-flight situation, it’s possible to get it when doing relaxing activities, such as listening to the sound of forest or the waves.

Oxytocin – the hormone of joyful encounters. When we lack it, we become irritable, rude and antisocial. Easiest way to get it spending time with people we like.  It also is responsible for couples bonding, creating trust and reducing stress, and can be boosted by kissing, touching and having sex.

Endorphins – the legal way to get high. It is generated by the pituitary gland during excitement, love, orgasm and similarly to the opiates, produces the feeling of well-being and reduces pain of stress or injury. Need a quick fix? Jump with a bungee cord or walk through a haunted house. A more sustainable way would be to develop a workout routine and start getting runner’s high. Too much work? Favorite foods and sweets also produce a similar effect.

Moral: When in doubt, go with sweets, sweat, sun, and sex.

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