Happiness, basically, comes down to chemical reactions.
Our brains react to certain things by releasing hormones and neurotransmitters that tell our bodies to relax, to calm down, and to feel happy.
These feel-good chemicals include things like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin and they all work to make us feel good. And because our brains work on a positive feedback system, this initial boost in happiness generally leads us to more happiness.
The great news is that there are lots of different things we can do, none of which take all that much effort, to get our brains to release these happy chemicals.
1. Make the most of the daylight
Getting out into bright sunlight is a great way to boost the amount of serotonin that our brains produce.
It can be harder in the winter months, but make an effort to get outside in the natural light every day if you can, to give your mood a boost. Another great benefit from natural sunlight is that it helps reset our body clocks. It regulates the release of melatonin, which then helps us sleep better at night.
If you have a little one that doesn’t sleep well at night it might be worth a try to get them out in bright sunlight during the day as much as possible to see if it helps their sleep improve a bit.
2. Write it all down
When you’re feeling a bit low, try writing everything down.
Don’t censor yourself, don’t worry about making too much sense. Whatever is on your mind, get it out and on paper instead.
Doing this is a great way to clear your mind, but there is another psychological benefit of writing about your emotions. Studies have found that processing our emotions linguistically, as in writing them down, produces less amygdala activity than other ways of processing emotions.
The amygdala is the part of our brain that kicks into action when we’re in situations we see as dangerous. It’s the root of the fight or flight response.
So when the amygdala is nice and calm, so are we.
Even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing.
When we smile, even if we’re faking it, our brains release those wonderful feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin.
Turns out that it’s not always a case of us smiling because we’re happy, sometimes we can end up feeling happy because we started smiling.
4. Go one better and laugh
Laughing works in the exact same way as smiling.
When we do it our brains react by releasing more happy chemicals.
So if you’re feeling a bit blue then try watching a film that always makes you laugh, or an old familiar series like Friends that is guaranteed to make you giggle.
5. Do some reminiscing
Try looking through old photo albums, listening to songs that remind you good times and playing back memories of amazing experiences.
When we think about happy times the levels of serotonin in our brains get a boost, and we feel happier.
So dig out those photos, write in a journal about a happy memory or chat about the good old days with a friend.
6. Hug it out
Grab your partner, your children, your mum, or whoever, and have a lovely long hug.
When we hug people our brains release oxytocin, which is the lovely feel-good bonding hormone. It works to calm down the amygdala, and leaves us feeling happy and calm.
7. Try something new
You can start small with something like walking a different route home from work. Or go big and do something you’ve never done before like bungee jumping.
Whenever we do something new our brains react by releasing dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter. Dopamine boosts our mood and improves our attention and motivation to get things done.
So try doing something new as often as possible to get that dopamine hit.
8. Change up your diet
Eating foods that contain tryptophan can help when we need a feel-good boost.
Tryptophan is an amino acid, found in high-protein foods like turkey, that our brains convert into serotonin. It works best when we eat these foods with carbs, so try a meal of salmon and brown rice, or a turkey sandwich.
9. Have a massage
It doesn’t matter if you go to the spa for a proffesional massage, or get your partner to give you one at home, the result is the same.
Massages give us a boost in both dopamine and serotonin, those lovely happy chemicals. They also have the added benefit of reducing the amount of cortisol, the stress hormone, that our bodies produce.
How many of these things do you already do on a regular basis?