“Happiness Hormones” – The reasons why it is so hard to achieve happiness by utilizing them

Self-ImprovementHappiness

  • Author Shlomo Agami
  • Published September 3, 2021
  • Word count 2,086

Our body has glands that secrete hormones and neurotransmitters which provide us a sense of joy, peace and tranquility for both body and mind. They are called “Happiness Hormones”. The 4 main "Happiness Hormones" are Dopamine, Oxytocin, Endorphins and Serotonin. There is extensive and detailed scientific information about them, and about the conditions and sensations that cause our brain and body to secrete each one. There are drugs that contain them or enhance their functions in our body. The question is why it is so difficult to achieve happiness by utilizing these hormones.

The Scope of Happiness Hormones Effects

Seeing that achieving happiness is a major human purpose, people conduct themselves, each in their own individual way towards this purpose. The happiness and tranquility hormones are continuously secreted into our bodies due to, or as a result of, good experiences and events or even just good thoughts or memories. The continuous secretion and consumption of happiness hormones is an essential and necessary need without which we cannot live. To illustrate this, we will examine a situation in which we are precluded a sufficient supply of such hormones. During the 1940’s, researcher René Spitz conducted a methodical study of children who lived in hospitals, with no father, mother or parent figure present. These children did not experience love, an embrace, sufficient attention, and a proper response to their cries and needs. They showed signs of delayed development, were quieter than regular children and their condition slowly declined. Half of them passed away and those who survived did not develop and function normally. The clear conclusion was that children die because of lack of love, human contact, sufficient attention, and consideration of their needs. In other words, it is evident from the study that it is impossible to survive without the ongoing secretion of happiness hormones.

The Balance between Stress Hormones and Happiness Hormones

The stress hormones (Adrenaline and mainly Cortisol) that are also secreted continuously in our body, as a response to events, thoughts, or emotions, are also essential and, in their absence, we will find it difficult to cope with the challenges facing us along the way. They are essential also due to other effects that they have on our body and yet, their elevated, continuous, and uncontrolled presence (especially Cortisol) might cause severe physical damage, even death.

In many cases, these contrasting hormones can rule out or overcome each other. The hormones that outnumber the opposite hormones, in the balance between them, are those that set the mood at any given moment. It is known that high levels of Cortisol suppress the production of Serotonin. On the other hand, happiness hormones can cancel out the effects of stress hormones. For example, when we are very hungry, we become nervous and angry as our body secretes stress hormones namely, Adrenalin and Cortisol. Eating and satiating our hunger leads to the release of Dopamine, which relaxes us and cancels out or overcomes the stress hormones. Oxytocin is released during and after sexual intercourse and, according to several theories, fights Cortisol.

When facing an important, significant, and nerve-racking event for which we are unsure of our success or failure (such as a test, serious confrontation, intimidating public appearance, important sports match, trial, surgery, etc.), Cortisol levels in our body escalate and we feel the physical symptoms of stress. If we fail the said important test, the level of stress hormones will increase even further, and their physical damage will accumulate in our bodies. However, if we succeed, or win, our bodies will enjoy a tremendous influx of happiness hormones that, beyond the sense of happiness, will lead all our systems to a sense of calm and tranquility. The happiness hormones defuse the negative effect of the stress hormones. We may conclude that the best sedatives for our body and mind are the happiness hormones secreted into our bodies after an important win or achievement.

The constant swaying pendulum between overcoming the stress hormones and overcoming the happiness hormone can sometimes be very dynamic as stress and tranquility hormones are often secreted concurrently or in very close succession. For example, when watching an important football match, conflicting hormones can flow through our bodies whenever the ball goes from one side of the pitch to the other. The key to a good mood, which positively impacts the physical condition, is a proper balance between stress hormones and happiness hormones, where the happiness hormones overcome the stress ones.

The Reasons Why It Is So Difficult to Achieve Happiness by Utilizing Happiness Hormones

There are several reasons to the fact that we find it difficult to achieve happiness through the natural use of happiness hormones or by using medication that enhances their activity.

  1. The existence of factors that we cannot control, such as personal, medical, economic conditions, as well as negative events and daily experiences along with various threats that increase the secretion of the stress hormones. A genetic predisposition toward depression is also an important factor. We find it very difficult to navigate ourselves in a manner that will help the happiness and tranquility hormones overcome the stress hormones.

  2. The happiness hormones often play a double role and, under some circumstances, may be damaging instead of being beneficial. There is a kind of “thermostat” that regulates the proper level of the happiness hormones. Being above or below it, may be damaging. A deviation from the proper balance between them (in which the happiness hormones have the upper hand) might be detrimental. An excess of Serotonin can cause Serotonin Syndrome, whose symptoms include increased heart rate and hypertension as a reaction to overstimulation of the Serotonin receptors in the central nervous system. A study conducted in June 2015 found that people suffering from social anxiety have high levels of Serotonin in their brains. Many successful celebrities, whose sweeping success and popularity pumps high levels of happiness hormones into their bodies and brains, suffer from anxiety attacks. Patients suffering from schizophrenia and various psychoses were found to have high levels of Dopamine. A study conducted at the University of Pisa in 2018, found that Oxytocin levels increased in people suffering from OCD in correlation of the disorder’s intensity.

  3. People who have successfully produced a good amount of the happiness hormone, through a certain experience or event, do not always know when to stop. Many tend to repeat the same experience over and over again, even causing an addiction (to drugs, alcohol, sex, work, cigarettes, medication, computer games, shopping, eating and more). The addiction itself leads to physical damage and causes people to neglect other important matters. This, in turn, elevates the stress hormones. Furthermore, the more the fun experience is repeated and rendered a habit, the fewer the happiness hormones that it generates, causing a need to increase the dosage.

  4. It is important to remember that it is not the happiness hormones that make us happy. What makes us happy is the positive experience, thought or feeling which instructed the brain to pump our bodies with the happiness hormones. The happiness hormones, in themselves, do not cause happiness, but they are very important as they fill the body and mind with a sense of tranquility and, being neurotransmitters, they return to the brain, which ordered their transmission, and contribute to the prevention of depression and anxiety. That is why drugs that enhance these hormones can prevent depression and anxiety, but do not lead to happiness.

The Asymmetry between Depression and Happiness

If we consider happiness and depression as two phenomena on the two ends of a scale, we will discover an asymmetry between the two. Depression can be very deep, major, and chronic. It might be very difficult and sometimes impossible to come out of it. True state of happiness cannot be constant and continuous. Even a minor negative incident can cloud happiness and drastically reduce it. The happiness hormones secreted into the body do not remain there and they gradually fade away. Happiness must be maintained by daily activities that contribute to the generation of happiness hormones. The level of happiness tends to decline over time, even with a routine upkeep. The more accustomed we get to it, the more effort it takes to maintain it at the same level. If we attain a goal from which we derive happiness, we might experience failure while attempting the achievement of a loftier goal.

This asymmetry is so inherent in us, that it is manifested through the hormonal behavior of our bodies. High Cortisol levels can cause permanent damage. They are life shortening, as they raise the risk for a metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cardiac and neurological diseases. On the other hand, excessive high levels of happiness hormones might reduce the level of happiness.

Happiness hormones are secreted upon the command of the nervous system and brain, which act upon a pattern that is dominated by the self-realization instinct. We are programmed to realize ourselves by constantly and continuously striving for happiness. Happiness is a goal that continuously eludes us. There is no symmetry between depression and happiness because, had there been one, anyone who achieved permanent happiness wouldn’t lose it so easily and would have no motivation to continue reaching additional achievements. The tricky and elusive happiness is the “carrot” that motivates us to keep moving forward.

Self-Managing Happiness and Stress Hormones

Despite their complexity, happiness and stress hormones can be self-regulated consciously so that the happiness hormones are increased, and the stress ones reduced.

There are various acts and activities that can be taken to increase happiness hormones. Many articles describe and list the experiences and actions that lead to the generation of each hormone separately, and how any of them contribute to our happiness.

The common denominator for how happiness hormones affect us (when they are properly produced at the correct quantity) is that they all provide us a sense of calm and tranquility for both body and mind. Therefore, anyone who wishes to enhance emotional peace, and thus happiness, can take any measures that achieve any happiness hormone. Producing happiness hormones can have two effects, both achieving tranquility and a good mood, and reducing the stress hormones. In addition to activities aimed at increasing happiness and tranquility hormones, one can take preemptive action to prevent, or minimize the secretion of stress hormones.

Following are the main methods for producing happiness hormones (it is important to remember that overdoing some of the actions below might lead to the opposite outcome and perhaps even addiction):

Physical activity (even 15-minutes of fast walking)

Relying on support from friends and relatives

Eating, especially tasty food and Dopamine rich foods

Partaking in self-realization activities

Travelling outdoors and exposure to the sun

Taking vacations and traveling to distant destinations

Sexual activity

Massage

Mediation, guided imagination, autosuggestion, medisuggestion

A hug from a family member

Playing with a baby

Petting a pet

Laughter and watching comedies

Listening to good music

Dancing

Taking a hot shower or a cold one (lower than body temperature)

Partaking in fun hobbies.

A combination of several such activities can enhance the effect.

Actually, every act or activity, that we enjoy, increases our level of happiness hormones, provided that we do not overdo it, or that the kind of that activity does not also entail the opposite outcome.

Success, victory, or achievement in a certain matter are a recipe for producing many happiness hormones. However, the path to achieving them might entail the risk of failure. That is why, when facing a difficult challenge, we should prepare the means and activities to get us out of that distress.

In addition to producing happiness hormones consciously, we can act, a priori, in a way that minimizes the appearance of unnecessary stress hormones. This can be done by avoiding confrontations and petty stressful incidents that can, on the one hand, significantly increase our Cortisol levels, while, on the other hand, gain low level of happiness hormones when overcoming those incidents. It would be best to avoid living under a constant or eminent threat that leads to the ongoing flow of Cortisol in the body. That’s why it is recommended to avoid, as much as possible, confrontation with people with whom we maintain daily contact such as relatives or friends.

Self-managing of happiness and stress hormones sounds complicated and difficult, but all you have to do is to switch your mindset. Conscious behavior toward the optimal generation of happiness and stress hormones can improve health and life quality much like maintaining a proper diet designed to preserve health.

Holds a B.A degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Areas of interest are the human psyche and more specifically-the pursuit of happiness.

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