Philosophy and spirituality have dealt with this misty terrain of human happiness for millennia. However, we have had to wait until the modern era for neuroscience to provide data on what happens in the brains of happy people. Some researchers call dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphin “the happy quartet.” These allies of well-being star The brains of happy people, a recent book fruit of the collaboration between the neuroscientist Sara Teller and the writer Ferran Cases, whose story draws attention.
Suffering from panic attacks since his adolescence, he spent several years locked up at home, even suffering from bodily paralysis. When he turned 20, he decided to explore all the possibilities he had in his hand: doctors, psychologists, alternative therapies, sports, food …, in order to gather as much information as possible to heal. After overcoming anxiety, in this book he examines, guided by a scientist, how to make each member of this quartet sound better, which sets the soundtrack to our happiness.
Endorphins mitigate pain – they are natural painkillers – and, by stimulating the pleasure centers, they are responsible for our moments of well-being and even euphoria. We secrete endorphins when we exercise, but also when doing pleasant activities such as dancing, laughing or engaging in a hobby that we are passionate about.
Oxytocin, sometimes called the “hug hormone,” encourages us to bond with other people and develop trust and love. Some researchers associate it with physical contact and even orgasm. The formula to increase the levels of this hormone: touch, hug and kiss. Meditating on a regular basis seems to also favor its production.
Serotonin is called a natural antidepressant in its own right. Since the highest concentration of serotonin is in the intestine, the impact of a balanced diet is often underestimated. Another important factor is exposure to natural light.
Dopamine promotes pleasure and relaxation, as well as fueling motivation. This neurotransmitter is very present in happy people and is involved in a multitude of brain processes related to behavior and learning. In order for it to be generously present, it is essential to sleep an average of eight hours a day. Exercising and celebrating accomplishments stimulates your production.
Ferran Cases and Sara Teller explain in their book that we can achieve a happy brain with some of these keys:
1. Live in the present mode instead of wasting energy projecting yourself into the past or the future. That would include managing stress and fear in real time, without dramatizing or overwhelming ourselves, accepting that they are emotions as natural as they are fleeting.
2. Practice resilience, which is the art of overcoming difficulties. Almost two millennia ago, Marco Aurelio already recommended: “Accept what you can control and let go of what you cannot control.” Some neuroscientists have calculated that the part you cannot control is genetics (40%), while the one you can control is “neuroplastic” (60%).
3. Try new things. An excess of routine leads us to repeat the same sensations and memories, which unleashes apathy, discouragement and recurring negative thoughts. To get out of that mental prison, the best antidote is to seek new experiences that put our neuroplasticity to work.
4. Add humor to life. The prestigious psychologist Martin Seligman considers that good humor is a key factor of resilient people, as well as an indicator of mental health. Laughing and distancing yourself from our daily dramas combats mental rigidity, which triggers anxiety because it aspires to control in a chaotic world. By smiling, we send the message through the vagus nerve to the brain that everything is fine, which will put the quartet of happiness to play.
Francesc Miralles is a writer and journalist who is an expert in psychology.
– There are people who have a naturally optimistic disposition, as if they were born to see the sunny side of reality. The political scientist and writer Xenia Vives relates in her book Luck in life is up to you that Anglo-Saxon culture has an expression for this type of people: Happy-go-lucky, something like “happy people do things well.”
– Can you change the polarity, when you have been living on the shadow side for a long time? According to Vives, yes, since it is basically a choice: each person chooses their attitude towards life. We can be heroes, protagonists of our adventure or victims unable to do anything until rescued.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.