We’re heading into winter, there’s less daylight, more grey days and less sunlight, and the colder, wetter days make it harder to motivate ourselves to get outside. So, how can you boost your happiness and maintain your enthusiasm?
Our bodies, our moods, and our overall wellbeing are heavily influenced by our brain chemicals, the four main ones being Endorphins, Dopamine, Oxytocin, and Serotonin. Each one playing a different role towards our happiness and wellbeing. So what do they do and how can you give them, and yourself, a boost?
Endorphins – These are our body’s natural pain relievers, released into our bodies in response to pain or physical stress, but they are also triggered by exercise and this is one of the reasons you might leave the gym feeling so energised. It’s also why you get that second burst of energy when you’re pushing your body to it’s limits during exercise, as the endorphins kick in as a response to the pressure you’re putting on your body and give you that extra energy and motivation. Even light exercise, and interestingly laughter too, will trigger endorphins, and so will certain aromatherapy oils such as lavender, and foods including dark chocolate and spicy foods.
Dopamine – This is the reward chemical. Dopamine is triggered when we achieve something. This is the reason ticking things off on our ‘to do list’ is so satisfying. This is also one of the reasons that coaches like me encourage you to break down your goals into small steps, and celebrate every success. If your reward only comes when you achieve the big goal, you might loose motivation. But if you celebrate your success at every small achievement, that little burst of dopamine will make you feel good and motivate you towards the next step. It’s not just about goals though. Celebrate with yourself every time you manage not to loose your patience, or don’t snap at someone, or don’t reach for the chocolate cake when you’re stressed. Do this often enough and you might see the behaviour start to change.
Oxytocin – This is often called the cuddle hormone, and is related to bonding, touch and intimacy. This hormone is released during pregnancy and it also strengthens our relationships and makes us feel good when we bond with others. The best way to get a big dose of oxytocin is through hugging, but and close bonding or contact will do it, even stroking or snuggling up with a pet will give you a boost.
Serotonin – This happiness chemical is the one we can struggle to get enough of during winter as one of the triggers is sunlight. Special lamps can recreate the effects of sunlight to help with this, but if you can get even a few minutes of natural light throughout the day, this will benefit you. This neurotransmitter is also boosted by exercise and positive thinking practices, so short walks outside, yoga, meditation, and gratitude practices could all help to give your serotonin levels a boost during autumn and winter. Some research shows that serotonin levels increase when we feel important or valued, so spending time with people who make you feel good about yourself will help too.
So now that you know a little more about our happiness chemicals, what will you do to boost your happiness?