Understanding the differences with Dopamine and how you can climb your own “happiness mountain”
Happiness is a feeling that’s universally sought after, but one that can be difficult to define. Simplistically, it can be described as a positive emotion, often accompanied by feelings of pleasure, contentment, and fulfilment. Yet, for something so simple, it can be difficult to achieve, especially when facing challenges in our lives.
The good news is that happiness is NOT just a subjective feeling. Our brain plays a significant role in how we experience happiness. When we encounter something that makes us happy, our brain releases a cocktail of chemicals that give us that uplifting feeling. These chemicals, including dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins, can influence our overall mood and sense of well-being.
While dopamine is associated with pleasure and reward, serotonin is linked to a more sustainable sense of happiness and well-being. These two neurotransmitting chemicals play a significant role in our mental wellbeing. While dopamine is often associated with feelings of euphoria, pleasure and reward, these are often short-term “hits” and they’re usually followed up by a low. It’s why we often describe dopamine boosting activities as “guilty-pleasures” and their rollercoaster effect on our mental well-being can cause them to become addictive. Some examples of these include junk-food, video gaming, alcohol, gambling, pornography and social media.
Serotonin is linked to more long-term, sustainable feelings of happiness, calmness, and well-being. It helps to regulate mood, appetite, sleep, and plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy mental state. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression, anxiety, irritability, and even aggression, as well as other mood disorders.
So why don’t we just all focus on serotonin boosting activities rather than dopamine? Well, unfortunately, it’s linked to where the two chemicals are produced in the body. Dopamine is produced directly in the brain and it means it is released incredibly quickly. Think of it like happiness rocket fuel, and like a rocket, it can hit highs very quickly. Serotonin on the other hand is produced in your gut (yes, you read that right!) and therefore it takes much longer for the effects of serotonin to be felt on the brain. Think of this like the effort it takes to climb a mountain; it takes time, it isn’t necessarily “enjoyable” along the way, but the rewards at the top are amazing. Also, like being at the top of a mountain, you don’t have to go right back down to the bottom to climb to the next peak, you can remain “high” walking along the ridge from peak to peak; where as the rocket will always fall back to earth very quickly, often with a bump and launching rocket after rocket probably isn’t sustainable.
Now, we don’t want this to turn into dopamine bashing. The quick euphoria it can create feels great and we don’t all have the patience or will to turn into serene spiritual monks, but it is crucial to maintain a balance between both chemicals. So, here are some tips to boost your serotonin levels naturally:
Exercise: Regular exercise has been shown to increase serotonin levels in the brain. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day to boost your mood and overall well-being.
Get outside: Sunlight exposure has been linked to increased serotonin production in the brain. Spend time outdoors during the day to boost your mood and increase your vitamin D levels.
Eat a healthy diet: A diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can help increase serotonin levels in the brain. Include foods like bananas, nuts, and eggs, which are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that is essential for serotonin production.
Socialise: Spending time with friends and loved ones can help boost serotonin levels in the brain. This is increased further by physical contact, so don’t be afraid to give hugs.
Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness, meditation and other relaxation techniques can help reduce stress and anxiety, which can lead to increased serotonin levels in the brain.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to boosting serotonin levels, incorporating these habits into your daily routine can help promote a healthy balance of serotonin and dopamine in the brain.
Find time to climb your own happiness mountain.