The "Quartet of Happiness": how to unleash the positive effects of endorphin, serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin

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Over the centuries artists and thinkers have dedicated themselves to trying to define and represent happiness. However, in the last decades, less romantic groups joined this challenging task: endocrinologists and neuroscientists.
Its goal is to study happiness as a biological process, to find out what triggers that feeling from the physical point of view.

That is to say, they do not care to know if people are happier thanks to love or money, but what happens in the body when joy shoots and how to "force" the feeling. 

 The "Quartet of Happiness": how to unleash the positive effects of endorphin, serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin
In this sense, there are four natural chemicals in our bodies that are usually defined as the "quartet of happiness," consisting of endorphin, serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.
The researcher Loretta G. Breuning, author of Habits of a Happy brain ( "Habits of a happy mind"), explains that "when your brain emits one of these chemicals, you feel good."
"It would be good to have them come up all the time, but they do not work that way," writes Emeritus Professor at California State University.
"Every happiness chemist has a unique job to do and goes off once the job is done."
In Epic's Blog, we tell you several simple ways to activate these four chemicals of happiness without the need for drugs or harmful substances.

1. Endorphins

Endorphins are considered morphine in the body, a sort of natural painkiller.
Discovered 40 years ago, endorphins are "the brief euphoria that masks the physical pain," Breuning writes.
So eat extremely spicy food is one of the ways to release these natural opiates, which induces a feeling of happiness.

  • But this is not the only way to get an "endorphin rush."
  • According to a study published last year by researchers at the University of Oxford, watching sad films raises levels of this chemical.

"Those who had the greatest emotional response also experienced a more significant increase in pain threshold and the feeling of unity with the group," Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford, UK. Lead author of the study.

Hence, dancing, singing or teamwork are activities that also enhance social bonding and pain tolerance through an increase in endorphins, Dunbar added.

2. Serotonin

As serotonin flows when you feel important, the feeling of loneliness and even depression are chemical responses to your absence.

"Over the last four decades, the question of how to manipulate the serotonergic system with drugs has been an important area of research in psychiatric biology, and these studies have led to advances in the treatment of depression," wrote in 2007 Simon Young, Editor Chief of the journal Psychiatry & Neuroscience.

Ten years later, the depression is positioned as the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This mental disorder affects more than 300 million people.

The simplest strategy to increase the level of serotonin is to think of happy memories, writes Alex Korb, a neuroscientist in the portal Psychology Today.
One of the symptoms of depression is that people can not remember happy moments, so, adds Korb, look at old photos or talking to a friend can help refresh your memory.
Neuroscientist describes three other ways: exposure to sunlight, massages and aerobic exercises, such as running and cycling.

3. Dopamine

Dopamine is often described as responsible for feelings such as love and lust, but also strike out is in charge of addictions. Therefore it is said that is the mediator of pleasure.

"Low levels of dopamine make people and other animals less likely to work for an end," says John Salamone, a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut (USA), in a study he published in 2012 in The journal Neuron on the effects of dopamine on the brain.

Therefore, he adds, dopamine "has more to do with motivation and the relationship between cost and benefit than with pleasure in itself."

The truth is that this chemical shoots so much when one takes the first step towards a target as when it meets.
Also, it can be generated by something of daily life (for example, find a free place to park the car) or something more exceptional (receive a job promotion).
The best way to raise dopamine, therefore, is to set short-term goals or to divide into small goals those objectives that are longer term. And celebrate when you meet them.

4. Oxytocin

Because it is related to the development of maternal behaviors and attachments, oxytocin is often dubbed as "the emotional bonding hormone" and "the hugging hormone. "
According to a study published in 2011 by the obstetrician and gynecologist Indian Navneet Magon, "social bonding is essential for the survival of species (human and some animals) because it favors reproduction, protection against predators and environmental changes, And boosts brain development. "

"The exclusion of the group produces physical and mental disorders in the individual, and eventually leads to death," he adds.
Therefore, he believes that oxytocin has a "leadership position" in this "quartet of happiness": "It is a significant step in building cerebral trust compound, which is needed to develop emotional relationships."

Embracing is a very simple way to achieve an increase in oxytocin. Giving or receiving a gift is another example.
Breuning also advises building trusting relationships providing "small steps," "negotiating expectations" so that both parties can meet the emotional bond.

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