I’m a hugger. I love hugging people. Each time I throw my arms around someone, a little burst of pleasure shoots through me. Does this happen to you?
If it does, you might be an oxytocin addict like me. Both a neurotransmitter and a hormone, oxytocin is often called ‘the love hormone.’ Hugging releases oxytocin and so does simply being kind to others. Spending time with loved ones boosts your oxytocin. Cuddling your partner, your child, or a pet can also increase your oxytocin. Nursing a baby and making love skyrocket oxytocin. Even telling stories kicks oxytocin through your system.
No wonder I love telling stories.
Here are some other “happiness hormones” to consider increasing in your life.
Serotonin is a mood-boosting neurotransmitter. Many of today’s antidepressants involve the use of serotonin. The best way to naturally boost serotonin is daily exercise. That’s one reason going for a run or a trip to the gym does wonders for your mood. Carbohydrates increase serotonin levels, which explains why you crave ice cream or a big bowl of pasta when you’re feeling blue.
Estrogen helps form serotonin that protects you from anxiety and irritability. Estrogen also helps keep your mood on an even keel. Estrogen decreases with menopause. Smoking, as well as extreme exercise, can lower estrogen, which you don’t want. Managing your stress is the best way to balance these hormones, since stress hormones like cortisol reek havoc with your good hormones. Stress also interferes with oxytocin being released in your body. Do whatever you can to cut stress from your life. Learn to pray and meditate. Force yourself to sit for awhile in a peaceful place. Listen to the birds sing. Take a long, warm bath infused with lavender oil. Learn how to quiet yourself.
Dopamine is neurotransmitter that runs your brain’s reward center. If you are praised for doing a good deed, you’ll get a dopamine boost resulting in feelings of well-being. Dopamine is also in charge of your pleasure-seeking behavior. Increase it by doing things you find rewarding– in my case, mowing the lawn– I feel so good after finishing an evening of yard work. Maybe you feel this way after a brisk walk with your dog or cleaning your house and setting your closet in order. The key is to seek out pleasurable activities that have a positive impact on your life instead of letting dopamine drive unhealthy habits that aren’t good for you. A quick way to boost your dopamine is to listen to music you enjoy.
Progesterone prevents anxiety, irritability and mood swings and helps you get a good night’s sleep. Levels drop as women enter perimenopause in their late 30s to early 40s, and can be accelerated by unhealthy eating habits and excessive stress. Eating right and taking care of yourself is the best way to balance your hormones. Men, I don’t know about your hormones, but stress can kill you. You need to eat right and take care of yourself too. Figure out how to unwind on a regular basis. Fishing is one of my favorite unwinding activities.
And don’t forget, a quick way to boost your happiness is to go out and hug someone. Not only are you making yourself happier, you are helping another person experience happiness too.