Three surprising happiness health secrets
What makes you happy? Is it a day at the beach listening to the sounds of the waves? How about a piece of your favorite chocolate cake? Or maybe a morning jog as the sun rises?
All these things can bring about happiness, but did you know it’s actually due to the chemical reactions these activities produce rather than the activity itself?
Happiness is not as elusive as we may often think. Much of it has to do with the body’s reactions to thoughts, behaviors, and actions.
This means that the more we’re aware of our body’s happiness responses, the more we can engage in a lifestyle that encourages it.
Here are three surprising health secrets for more happiness.
Happiness is generated by both mental and physical health
Although we may think that our state of happiness resides in our minds, you may be surprised to learn that physical reactions in our bodies coincide with our brains and thoughts, making happiness a side effect of both mental and physical health.
Four specific neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins) are deemed happiness chemicals and play a significant role in our emotional state.
These chemical messengers communicate feelings of:
- reward and accomplishment (dopamine)
- positive mood, relaxation, and calm (serotonin)
- love and connection (oxytocin)
- mental and physical pain relief (endorphins)
However, our levels of happiness don’t just start and end with the neurotransmitters themselves.
In addition to the actual neurotransmitter, its ability to communicate messages throughout the body is essential to one’s state of happiness.
Both nature and nurture factors can impact neurotransmitter messaging such as:
- past experiences
- family genes
- our environment
- stress management
- chemicals and/or toxic exposures
If one of these is severely affected (such as exposure to lead or mercury or unprocessed trauma or grief), happiness may be more difficult to achieve because the toxicity and/or stress can impede the nerve cells from firing appropriately.
Both the neurotransmitter and its communication ability are keys to happiness.
Happiness can be influenced by diet
Let’s return to number one for a moment. Remember those neurotransmitters that communicate feelings of happiness? Well, many are produced in the gut, which means what we consume influences how many neurotransmitters we can create.
While researchers have just scratched the surface on the connection between the gut and overall health, we do know that certain choices are better than others when it comes to diet and happiness.
One important recommendation is to avoid processed foods. Many processed products have chemicals and toxins such as MSG, artificial flavorings, and synthetic dyes that disrupt the production of neurotransmitters. These contaminants become overly “loud” in the body and, in effect, neurotransmitter messages aren’t heard.
Instead of processed foods, opt for:
- organic fruits and vegetables
- lean proteins
- healthy fats
Try this for a few months and take note of whether or not your sense of smell and taste become heightened. This is a typical reaction (and reward) that occurs when eliminating addictive processed foods.
Tough mental and/or physical times can result in more happiness
It may not seem like it in the moment, but when we face difficult times in life, we can actually come out happier on the other side.
As psychiatrist and death and dying researcher Elisabeth Kübler-Ross eloquently stated:
“The most beautiful people are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.”
While a new perspective and more wisdom can grow from reflection following a traumatic experience, happiness may stem from the physical state one endures throughout it.
During times of crisis, the body increases its production of dopamine and epinephrin to support the endorphin and endocannabinoid systems to help get through the pain. Specifically, these compounds bind to opium receptors (much like morphine), relieving physical and emotional pain as much as they can.
When the tough time subsides, the body and mind may benefit from the added dose of these compounds which can result in more connection, love, and calm – all leading to more happiness.
It’s easy to think that happiness just resides in things we get and experiences we have, but the inner workings of our bodies are intertwined with it all. Our mental and physical health play a dual role in the state of our mood, sense of accomplishment, feelings of love and connection, and ability to get through tough times.
Just remember – the next time you enjoy a walk on the beach, a piece of your favorite pie, or a vacation with the family, don’t underestimate the internal processes taking place in order for you to feel happy.
Death: The Final Stage of Growth by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross