Happiness can be an elusive state. All of us want it; not enough of us have it. We’re not entirely clear what causes happiness, how to define it or what sustains it, but we know how it feels. We also learn how to tap into experiences that have brought us happiness in the past, to repeat the sensation. When we learn to hack these feelings, we can get that much closer to a blissful state. Read on for five happiness hacks to boost your mood, outlook and more.
The Neurochemicals of Happiness
Besides the roles that genetics, circumstances and character play in bringing happiness, there are the hundreds of neurochemicals our body produces—some of them directly connected to our sense of well-being. This article in Psychology Today highlights many of them, including the following:
- Endocannabinoids: These are compounds that the body produces. Very similar to the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, they also interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors comprising the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The most well-known endocannabinoid is anandamide, which comes from the Sanskrit “ananda,” meaning bliss.
- Dopamine: Sometimes associated with addictive drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine, dopamine is responsible for reward-driven behavior and pleasure seeking. Setting a goal and achieving it will set off a dopamine rush.
- Oxytocin: This hormone is connected to human bonding and increasing trust and loyalty.
- Endorphins: In their chemical structure, endorphins resemble opiates and have pain-relieving properties.
- GABA: This is “an inhibitory molecule that slows down the firing of neurons and creates a sense of calmness.” It’s released through activities like yoga and meditation.
- Serotonin: Confidence-building is among the many roles that this neurochemical plays. “Ultimately, the link between higher serotonin and a lack of rejection sensitivity allows people to put themselves in situations that will bolster self-esteem, increase feelings of worthiness and create a sense of belonging,” according to Psychology Today
- Adrenaline: Known for its energy-boosting properties, adrenaline plays a big role in the flight-or-fight response. A surge of adrenaline makes you feel exhilarated and alive.
5 Ways to Get & Stay Happy
Here are five happiness hacks you can try to boost some of these feel-good chemicals in your body and brain to feel more content and positive.
- Consuming cannabis: If you’re considering the neurochemical basis for happiness and well-being, then one obvious way to achieve this is with cannabis and its connection to the (ECS). As noted above, anandamide is the bliss molecule—and it has a connection to the plant.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana shares a similar chemical structure to anandamide and works on the same CB1 receptor, creating feelings of joy, euphoria and happiness. It also serves to boost the body’s internally produced anandamide.
Cannabidiol (CBD) can also play a role, helping block the breakdown of the natural anandamide in our bodies, to keep the happy feelings going for longer.
Generally, sativa cannabis strains are recommended to elevate mood. Though for some, too much of an energizing sativa strain can lead to feeling jittery and paranoid. In this case, a hybrid strain or even an indica with effects that aren’t too sedative could be your best bet. Some cannabis strains to try are as follows:
- Going outside: Spending even 20 minutes a day outside is proven to boost mood and even improve memory.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Sussex confirmed that “being outdoors, near the sea, on a warm, sunny weekend afternoon is the perfect spot for most. In fact, participants were found to be substantially happier outdoors in all natural environments than they were in urban environments.”
- Staying active: Exercising daily can release proteins and endorphins that make you feel good. A wide variety of studies show that people who work movement into their schedules have a much lower risk of anxiety and depression.
- Eating a well-balanced diet: It’s perhaps not the most exciting of the happiness hacks we’re touting, but a healthy diet can help boost your mood. For example, health website Healthline points out that “adding protein to your meals can help slow the absorption of carbohydrates in your blood and increase the release of dopamine and norepinephrine, which may improve your mood and energy for several hours after eating.”
Also, reports Healthline, foods such as complex carbohydrates “contain soluble fiber that can slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream and increase serotonin, the feel-good chemical, both of which decrease mood swings.”
- Performing random acts of kindness: Studies show that when people focus on others first, they wind up happier than if they focus on themselves first and foremost.