Your body’s functioning is controlled by hormones. This includes the emotions you feel as well. When these hormones are present in the brain, they are called neurotransmitters and they play a role in making you feel happy, sad, stressed, and angry.
The four neurotransmitters tied to happiness are serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin. When something good happens, these neurotransmitters will flood your brain, making you feel content. Over time, the brain will reabsorb these neurotransmitters and the feelings will dissipate. When you can increase how often and how much neurotransmitters are released in the brain, you can often increase how regularly you feel happy.
How Neurotransmitters Cause Happiness
The four different neurotransmitters tied to happiness all play different roles in your brain and your emotions. They also all have different situations that will trigger their production and release. This is how each of these different neurotransmitters works:
- Serotonin – Serotonin affects eating and sleeping patterns, which once regulated, will help you feel content. Serotonin will also increase your focus, make you feel more relaxed, and give you a good baseline level of happiness. Because of its power, serotonin is generally the neurotransmitter targeted with depression and anxiety medication. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are one of the most often used prescriptions to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Dopamine – Dopamine is the pleasure hormone. Your brain releases it when something good happens and you feel an instant rush of joy and gratification. This is associated with experiences like good food, sex, marking something off your to do list, gambling, and anything else that feels like a reward. Dopamine is also one of the key neurotransmitters involved in addiction as our bodies and minds seek to produce more of it.
- Endorphins – Endorphins are also released as a reward response like dopamine with the goal that we will keep doing what has made us feel good. The situations for an endorphin release are somewhat different, however, occurring after things like exercising, socializing with others, eating, and having sex.
- Oxytocin – Oxytocin is often related to love, sex, and family. The brain releases oxytocin when a person is feeling close and trusting with a loved one or child. The oxytocin helps continue strengthening that bond. Oxytocin can also make you feel calmer and more relaxed and encourages your brain to produce more dopamine and serotonin as well so that you feel happier overall.
There are many factors that go into how your body produces neurotransmitters and when your brain releases them. Some of this is genetic and people will have more or fewer hormones produced naturally. Some of it is within your control by seeking out experiences, relationships, and environments that trigger the release of these neurotransmitters in your brain.
You can also have some impact by eating the right foods. All four of these neurotransmitters are produced from amino acids, which are present in foods containing protein. Meat, eggs, dairy, nuts, beans, and other high protein foods can ensure that your brain is producing an ample amount of neurotransmitters to adequately respond to any situation that causes you to feel joy.
At the same time, depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns are often caused by inadequate amounts of neurotransmitters, making it hard to achieve and maintain a feeling of happiness or calm when this occurs. Eating differently or seeking out experiences may not be enough to reduce the effects of depression.
Mental health medication can often be effective since it changes the chemical imbalances in the brain, helping you to build up serotonin and other feel good chemicals so that you feel happier once again. If you are interested in the options for psychiatric medication to treat depression or anxiety, contact Aware Behavioral Health to learn more about our mental health treatment options in Dallas.