Three Ways to Get More Dopamine – The Happiness Hormone
There’s a lot of good advice about how to pursue a life filled with happiness, but when it comes to the brain, happiness boils down to the chemical connections driven by neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical communicators in the brain that pass messages from one nerve cell or neuron to another. The meeting and mixing of neurotransmitters form the basis for happiness, but there’s one, in particular, that is vital to the happiness recipe: dopamine.
There are roughly forty different types of neurotransmitters, and dopamine falls into the top five. It helps regulate mood, movement, and memory, among other things. Dopamine is called the happiness hormone because it activates our reward systems, inducing pleasurable feelings.
What makes dopamine so powerful, is that it doesn’t stimulate the rewards system after engaging in a behavior, but can actually activate it in anticipation of a reward. When we think about doing something our brain knows is rewarding, it releases dopamine to encourage and motivate us. This motivation loop is why dopamine is necessary in memory and can be pivotal in how we learn.
We can work to help boost dopamine in our brain, giving us the added motivation to get more done and enjoy life. Here are three ways to actively activate dopamine.
Take on an attitude of gratitude.
One of the easiest ways to get more dopamine is by embracing gratitude. This is more than saying thank you more, though those small words can help make gratitude a habit. Embracing gratitude is being actively grateful from the moment we wake up.
To begin, we can start our day with a gratitude journal, where we write down three things we’re grateful for. These can be small things, such as getting a good night’s sleep, or bigger things, such as gratitude for our health. By beginning our day with three distinct things we are grateful for, we put our brain in a positive state of mind.
We can choose to ensure one person every day receives our gratitude. Perhaps we call a friend and make sure they know we appreciate how they helped us move. Or send an email to a co-worker who took the time to pitch in on a project. Whoever we choose to express our gratitude for, be sure to focus on what they did and how it impacted us.
The more we embrace gratitude in our lives, the easier it gets to see the world through a grateful lens. It reduces our stress and helps us overcome obstacles and difficulty because we are more likely to see the positives as outweighing the negatives.
Move Your Body
Not only does the body release endorphins when you exercise, but the brain also releases dopamine, helping to regulate mood and produce good feelings. And the good news is it doesn’t take hours of exercise. In fact, getting up and moving for just five to ten minutes a few times throughout the day can be just as beneficial as a longer, more intense workout.
If we work in an office, going up and down the stairs or going for a brisk walk around the building is enough to get our blood pumping. If we’re at home, we can run in place, do a five-minute yoga routine, or dance around the living room. YouTube and other apps have plenty of five-minute exercise routines that are easy to learn and memorize.
These dopamine boosts allow our brain to associate exercise with feeling good. This reward loop is solidified the more we engage in these little exercise bursts throughout the day. In addition to releasing dopamine, exercise lowers stress, and anxiety, which also helps our brain link exercise with happiness.
Learn Something New
When we learn something new, our reward center is activated. Our brain wants to work, and learning is one of the best ways to give it the workout it craves. However, it’s important we understand how to maximize the rewards our brain receives.
In order to maximize happiness through learning, we need to break it into small, manageable chunks. Essentially, celebrate the small wins. When we do this, we trigger the reward center frequently enough to avoid frustration.
Set small goals, such as reading for twenty-five minutes, memorizing ten new words, or five-word definitions. When we reach these small goals, we allow ourselves a reward. Maybe it’s a bowl of ice cream or watching an episode of the show we’re obsessed with. We want the reward to be something we really enjoy and only something we get when we reach a learning goal.
By breaking learning down into small chunks and repeating the process throughout the day, we feed our brain a steady dose of dopamine. It doesn’t just make us happy but helps move what we’re learning into our long-term memory stores.
The secret to happiness isn’t elusive and doesn’t require hours of work. A few quick and easy hacks can help our brain release dopamine throughout the day, helping lower our stress and ease our anxiety. By practicing gratitude, engaging in bursts of exercise, or learning something new, we can ensure our brain gets enough dopamine to make a big difference in how we see the world.