Are you suffering from the winter blues? Seasonal depression is typical this time of year, with around
2–3% of the Canadian population experiencing it annually. However, before you get ready to move to the beach, it’s important to note that one of the happiest countries in the world is not a tropical paradise, it’s… Finland. Yep, you read that right.
The Finnish people have even created their own “Finnish Guide to Happiness,” which includes ice baths, drinking alone in your underwear, forest walks, and picking berries.
Before you go plunging into an ice bath or drinking alone in your underwear, I’d like to note what I believe is the secret to Finn’s success is that they’ve figured out ways to hack their happiness hormones. Stay tuned as I share some ways to flood your body with feel-good hormones that may sound a bit more appealing.
Let’s dive into the four key happiness hormones – dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, and oxytocin – and how to “hack” them.
Dopamine is a “pleasure” hormone, and it becomes stimulated when we strive towards a goal, so sometimes it’s nicknamed the “reward chemical.” Dopamine motivates us to take action to achieve a plan so we can experience the pleasure of the reward.
How to hack it:
- Create a checklist. Nothing produces more dopamine than putting a checkmark next to completed items on your list.
- Dive into organizing a junk drawer or cleaning your closet – the brain loves to access things quickly!
- Set monthly or daily goals – having specific, realistic, and achievable goals stimulate dopamine production. Purpose makes us happy.
- Schedule a massage if possible, go for a walk, turn off all your electronics, have a bath, start a gratitude journal.
- Eat healthy and nutritious food; bookmark food blogs; experiment with new recipes and get the whole family involved.
- Celebrate the little wins – finish a book, grow a strawberry or a tomato plant.
Endorphins are the body’s natural painkiller. They are released when the body is in pain or under stress, and also in response to activities such as exercise, eating, and sex.
How to hack it:
- Laughter is the BEST medicine – turn on a comedy show or read a funny book, or simply tell a joke.
- Use essential oils in the bath to relax and unwind.
- Enjoy dark chocolate, which is also a great source of magnesium for relaxing muscles and reducing stress.
- Exercise – especially anaerobic exercise – helps us cope with chronic pains by activating endorphins. Turn off the news and move your body.
Serotonin boosts our mood and encourages social contact and the ability to have fun. When serotonin decreases, you become irritable, depressed, sad, and your spirit is low.
How to hack it:
- Choose positive thoughts – focus on everything you’re grateful for, and your brain will fill with serotonin.
- Find 5 mins daily to create a quiet space to meditate.
- Expose yourself to sunlight, a significant vitamin D source, which also helps produce more serotonin.
- Cycling, swimming, and running also helps produce serotonin.
- Walk in nature or forest bathe.
- Eat foods high in tryptophan like turkey, or pumpkin and sesame seeds.
- Supplements such as 5-HTP or HappySense® are not habit-forming and support healthy levels of serotonin.
Oxytocin is the “love” or “cuddle” hormone. Oxytocin is released by hugging, touching, and orgasms in both men and women. Many individuals in 2020 experienced low levels of oxytocin in isolation due to the pandemic.
How to hack it:
- Play with a pet. If you don’t have any pets, maybe a friend or neighbour has a dog you can walk or play ball with. Volunteer at a local animal shelter – or perhaps foster a dog?
- Massage – but if that’s not possible, give self-massage – self-massage has benefits, but does not replace a regular massage. When getting a massage from a masseuse, the brain can’t anticipate the next move, so while self-massage is very beneficial, it will never be like a proper massage.
- Hold hands or cuddle with your loved ones.
- Give someone a compliment. Tell a friend or a family member how much you appreciate them. Giving compliments releases large amounts of oxytocin.
The biggest takeaway here is that happiness is a daily practice. In the pursuit of happiness, we are often chasing something outside of ourselves, a job, a salary, a vacation, or a partner to make us happy, but we fail to realize that a happy life is in the joy of our everyday moments. Being present and grateful for our planet and everything and everyone in it bring true joy and happiness. And this type of mindset requires the cultivation of fullness and richness of each moment.
A truly fulfilling life filled with happiness is waiting for you…if you choose it.