There are a number of "happiness chemicals" responsible for our good moods, including serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins and more. We've heard that oxytocin is released after sex and endorphins from working out, but there are also a number of other surprising ways to get your brain to release these happiness chemicals. If you're someone who is trying to get high on life the natural way, it's useful to know what types of habits and activities can give you that rush of euphoria.
"Happiness chemicals' are the substances in our brains called neurotransmitters that influence things like mood, motivation, intimacy, productivity, feelings of wellbeing, trust, and connection with others," says psychologist Dr. Joseph Cilona over email. "These neurotransmitters have a huge impact on our overall feelings of wellbeing, pleasure, and mood. Low levels of these important substances in our brains are associated with things like low mood and depression, pain, loneliness, stress, anxiety, and difficulty feeling motivated."
Working to up these neurotransmitters naturally can help you feel happier in the moment and even help fight against existing anxiety and depression. If you're looking for some easy mood boosters, consider these 11 surprising ways to get your brain to release more happiness chemicals.
1Eat Some Dark Chocolate
"Consuming some dark chocolate has been found to increase serotonin levels, which have a direct effect on things like feeling calm and comfortable," says Cilona. "Consuming chocolate has also been found to increase dopamine levels, bolster motivation, and to have a mild anti-depressant effect." Stick with dark chocolate at least 70 percent cocoa or higher, eat it regularly (about 2-3 times a week), and consume around 1.5 to 2 ounces for best results.
2Make Some Music
Even if you're not a natural Beethoven, making music, whether it just be singing, tapping out drum sounds on your desk, or learning some piano, can help encourage a positive mood and even diminish pain. This is because engaging in music helps release endorphins, according to research from the University of Oxford.
3Create A Checklist
Dopamine is linked to positive behavior reinforcement, and it's responsible for that satisfied feeling when you complete something, according to Psychology Today. By keeping a small, attainable to-do list, you'll release a rush of dopamine each time you check something off. Added bonus: This will motivate you to keep getting more stuff done.
4Look At Old Photos
"Looking at old photos that remind you of happy events in your life, or times when you felt confident, successful, or achieved something significant, can create an immediate increase in serotonin levels," says Cilona. But be careful not to look at photos that have less than fond memories, as viewing those could have the opposite effect.
5Stand Up Straight
Your mom was onto something when she told you to stand up straight. "Assuming a strong posture and holding it for as little as two minutes has been found to increase confidence levels and decrease stress hormone levels like cortisol, which works directly against neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine," says Cilona.
6Eat Some Hot Peppers
If you feel that spicy food gives you some type of rush, it's not just in your head. When you eat a hot pepper, your body responds to the heat as if it was pain. This sends out a rush of endorphins to block the heat, which could give you a happiness rush or even reduce feelings of pain in other areas of your body, according to multiple experts who spoke to ABC News.
7Take A Walk Outside
"Exercise, sunlight, and being around greenery and water in nature are all associated with significant increases in serotonin levels," says Cilona. "Try to make the walk as vigorous as possible and do it for at least 20 minutes. The brighter the sun is the better. "
8Watch A Funny Video
Watching something funny is not only a good distraction if you're feeling down, but it can actually help release some feel-good chemicals. Laughter helps to release endorphins, according to research from the University of Oxford, which makes comedy a great natural way to experience bliss.
9Go To A Museum
There's a reason so many people fall in love with the classic masterpieces. Viewing art that you find beautiful releases a surge of dopamine in the brain, increasing feelings of pleasure, according to research from the University College London.
10Get A Massage
A nice massage can really put you in a good place, and that's because massage therapy can help boost your levels of serotonin, according to multiple studies. It has also been shown to increase levels of dopamine and decrease the stress hormone cortisol, which makes sense why you leave the spa feeling so light and euphoric.
11Do A Group Workout
Exercise alone is a great way to release endorphins as well as boost serotonin and dopamine. But you can kick these happy chemicals up a notch by participating in a group workout. Research from Oxford shows that athletes who worked out with others showed increased pain tolerance, which means more of those endorphins were released.