Naturally Boost Happiness with These Strategies
We’re obsessed with happiness. Gretchin Rubin’s The Happiness Project became a bestseller in 2009, you’ll find #happiness in numerous social media hashtags, and psychologists have designed a whole science around the subject.
Search for “happiness” on PubMed and you’ll find over 5,000 studies about everything from boosting wellbeing to classifying happiness as a psychiatric disorder. (Don’t worry: that latter proposal was deemed “scientifically irrelevant.”)
Brain chemicals, scientifically called neurotransmitters, help your brain communicate and determine whether you feel happiness. “Improving the balance of these chemicals seems to help brain cells send and receive messages,” writes Sara Gottfried, MD, in The Hormone Cure, “which in turn may boost mood.”
While numerous players including dopamine contribute to that feeling, serotonin is the head honcho in the happiness field. According to Gottfried, serotonin works “as a general gatekeeper of other neurotransmitters in your brain.”
Along with a little help from vitamin B6, your brain manufactures serotonin from the amino acid tryptophan. While it plays a key role there, your digestive tract and blood platelets actually house about 90 percent of serotonin.
“Of the approximately 40 million brain cells, most are influenced either directly or indirectly by serotonin,” writes Colette Bouchez in WebMD. “This includes brain cells related to mood, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, memory and learning, temperature regulation, and some social behavior.”
Serotonin does other things, but you get the point: You want optimal amounts of this “happy hormone” sticking around.
“Adequate levels of serotonin provide emotional and social stability,” writes Hyla Cass, MD, in her book Natural Highs. According to Cass, low serotonin levels contribute to:
- Sleep disturbances
- Increased sensitivity to pain
- Emotional volatility
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Carbohydrate cravings