For some, it’s easier said than done. Yes, material things and experiences can aid in creating happiness, but it goes a lot deeper than that. There are three “Happy Messengers” in our brain that are the key contributors to our happiness. These messengers are Serotonin, Noradrenalin, and Dopamine, and these are the brain chemicals that begin to malfunction when stress levels become more than a person can handle, which can lead to a multitude of bad things. Let’s focus on these little nuggets for a second, so we can understand what they actually do (I find this kind of stuff fascinating, sorry if you guys aren’t on the same wavelength, but I think it’s beneficial).
- Serotonin is what lets you sleep, and it must be working properly in order for you to get a good nights rest (it makes sure that your body’s physiology is ready for snoozing). No serotonin, no restful sleep… and we all know how grumpy people can get when functioning on too little z’s. Serotonin is more often than not the first happy messenger to fail under stress, hence why the first sign of overstress is inability to sleep peacefully.
- Noradrenalin is what gives us energy (it’s a cousin of adrenalin), and has multiple important functions in the body’s nervous system. Proper functioning of Noradrenalin in the brain is uber necessary for you to feel energized, and without enough of it in our brain we automatically feel like a tired, lumpy sack of potatoes. People with low levels become exponentially lethargic, and if the levels aren’t increased eventually, we would just crash.
- Dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter (a chemical released by nerve cells to send signals to other nerve cells) – the human brain uses five known types of these receptors. When Dopamine function declines, Endorphin function also declines, which causes the loss of our body’s natural pain killer. Dopamine is also responsible for our body’s “Pleasure Center”, the area of your brain that allows you to enjoy life. When stress interferes with your Dopamine function, the Pleasure Center ceases to function. Several important diseases of the nervous system are associated with dysfunctions of the dopamine system (Parkinson’s disease, Schizophrenia, and ADHD to name a few).
So yeah, those are the little guys that keep us happy on a daily basis. There’s a bunch of different things you can do to increase your levels of happiness (here‘s a random list of “scientifically proven” ideas), but what I really want to talk about is food, mmm.
Certain foods contain specific chemicals that are scientifically proven to lift your mood; particularly foods that are rich in omega-3 fats, folic acid, selenium, and vitamin B12. Ainsi, here’s a list of things to munch on if you’re feeling a bit blue, or just want to maintain that nice sunshine-y feeling:
- Chocolate, my mild addiction (the darker the better I say). This yummy treat contains anandamide, a brain chemical that helps lift your spirits. Scientists believe that other chemicals in chocolate cause anadamide to stay longer in the brain, which is never a bad thing. It also contains caffeine which creates a mild stimulating effect, and its high sugar content leads to the release of serotonin (some anti-depressant medications). The fat and phenylethylamine in chocolate also triggers endorphins, a hormone in the brain that leads to natural feelings of euphoria.
- Spinach. This vegetable, most often despised by kids and adored by Popeye, is filled with folic acid, a vitamin that is essential for production of serotonin, the “feel-good chemical”. A single cup of spinach contains 262 micrograms of folic acid (the recommended daily intake is 600 micrograms). [Asparagus, beans, and broccoli can also boast of a high amount of folic acid – broccoli is a strong anticancer food as well, proven in laboratory studies to inhibit cancer cells].
- Nuts. They are nutritional powerfoods, rich in protein, minerals (notably selenium), and omega-3 fats. Nuts also contain vitamin E, an antioxidant that fights stress. Along with lifting our mood, nuts are considered “brain food” due to their high content of omega-3 fats, which help improve the blood flow in our brain. Walnuts in particular have high levels of omega-3 and uridine.
- Milk. Preferably skim, but all milk is a fantastic source of tryptophan, an amino acid that our brain needs to make serotonin. The other valuable nutrients of milk include vitamin D, antioxidants, vitamin B12, and calcium – and it also reduces aging.
- Sunflower Seeds. Seeds are an excellent source of fiber and protein, but sunflower seeds have a ton of selenium which is a chemical that can lift your mood almost instantly. Right on.
- Carbs (rice, bread, noodles, pasta). Eating carbohydrates can increase our serotonin levels, but to prevent sudden jumps in blood sugar, going the healthier route is always best. This means carbs like brown rice and wheat bread. Whole-wheat carbs are digested more slowly, which in turn leads to you being happier for a longer time.
- Bananas. The high potassium levels in bananas can prevent cramps, but it also has tryptophan, a serotonin derivative. Bananas are also loaded with magnesium, which leads to lower anxiety levels and a better night’s sleep.
- Oily Fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines). Oily fishes contain a plethora of omega-3 fatty acids, with studies showing that people who eat more fish are less likely to be depressed (high doses of omega-3 may even be used to treat clinical depression). Most fish also contain vitamin B6 and B12, which help produce serotonin.
- Beans and Soybeans. Beans are loaded with a ton of soluble fiber, folic acid, and omega-3 fats, as well as being excellent sources of iron and calcium, (which can increase our red blood cells). More importantly, soy contains genistein, a weak estrogen-like substance, which may prevent prostate and breast cancer.
- Coffee. Coffee is cracked out with caffeine, one of the world’s most popular mood-enhancing drug. Coffee boosts your energy levels, makes you feel more alert, and can improve your memory, but only drink it in moderation (take heed, coffee addicts); too much coffee can also wreck your disposition, cause heart palpitation and anxiety, and make it difficult for you to sleep. So maybe eat a banana with your coffee before bed if you’re an addict?
Well, there you have it. Stay happy people, the world would be a dreary place otherwise. [If you need a goofy mood booster, click here … or here. Sorry if you don’t share my sense of humor, but it’s a grade school throwback that I felt deserved a shout-out].
Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.