3 Simple Brain Hacks for Happiness
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a magic happiness button we could press? Well, that might not be possible, but there are things you can do to leverage your brain chemistry and make yourself feel more content and joyful. Today we’ll be sharing some quick ways to ‘hack’ your brain and boost your mood. Brain processes can get endlessly complicated, but we’ll keep it simple, so you feel confident in ‘hacking your happiness.’
Step 1: Get to Know Your ‘Happy Chemicals’
Some brain chemicals can bring us a sense of happiness, pleasure, or calm when released. Sometimes, people take mental health medications to balance these chemicals because they can get out of whack if our brains produce too much or not enough, which can really affect our mood. However, when our brains naturally release these chemicals during various activities and experiences, they can make us feel amazing. The easiest way to remember them is using the DOSE acronym – because we need to get our daily dose!
- DOPAMINE: the reward chemical can make us feel pleased, proud, excited, motivated, and even euphoric.
- OXYTOCIN: the love hormone brings “warm and fuzzy” feelings. It can help us feel connected, safe, and bonded. It is also associated with fond memories and can trigger feelings of nostalgia.
- SEROTONIN: the mood stabilizer can make us feel focused, calm, clear, and important.
- ENDORHPIN: the pain reliever is released in small bursts to temporarily relieve pain if you’re hurt. It’s also the chemical associated with a runner’s high – the euphoric feeling we get during exercise. Endorphins can make us feel calm, pleased, and optimistic.
Step 2: Release the Chemicals!
Now that we know the chemicals we’re after, let’s talk about the activities and experiences most associated with their release. Integrating the following practices into your routine will support your overall well-being and happiness:
Dopamine: the reward chemical
- Make a to-do list and check things off as they get done
- Work on a home project: plant flowers, build something, decorate, clean, etc.
- Eat foods you love
- Encourage your child to show acts of kindness to others, and model this yourself
Oxytocin: the love hormone
- Reminisce with loved ones
- Hold hands, hug, or engage in skin-to-skin contact
- Pet or play with your pets
- Give compliments and tell your people you love them
Serotonin: the mood stabilizer
- Put on a guided meditation and follow along
- Go to a pool, lake, or beach
- Spend time in the sun
- Take a nature walk
Endorphin: the pain reliever
- Eat dark chocolate
- Cook and eat spicy foods
- Watch comedy or tell funny stories with your family (whatever gets you to belly laugh!)
- Try new activities that get you moving and make you laugh (axe throwing, minigolf, cornhole)
Step 3: Repeat, repeat, repeat!
These brain hacks can give you boosts of happiness while they’re happening or shortly after, and that’s great! But, when most of us think about happiness, it’s more of a long-term sense of well-being that we want. The more often we engage in practices that bring us joy, the stronger those neural connections become. We can’t exercise once a month or call our friends once a year and expect to feel a lasting effect on our mood. Rather, the consistent and repetitive use of these practices will improve our mood overall.
As a parent, you can use the list above to take an inventory of the practices in your household. Maybe you’re doing wonderfully on the exercise and peer connection front, as your child is involved in several team sports, but you haven’t incorporated opportunities for gratitude or connecting with nature. Or maybe your child has a very strong family and friend support system but doesn’t exercise much. Once you’ve identified areas where you’re doing well and those needing improvement, you can work with your child to pick activities they’d like to add to their life, with well-being, joy and happiness as the goal!
About the Expert: Annike Sprow is a licensed social worker with PM Behavioral Health in Pennsylvania, providing therapy and clinical services to both children and adults. She is certified in the CHATS model of CBT through the University of Pennsylvania, which is used for “here and now” problem solving and behavior modification. Annike takes a holistic approach to therapy with children, assessing and targeting environmental stressors while teaching and modeling emotional regulation skills that assist in increasing an internal sense of calm and control.