Happiness is not a byproduct. It is a complex science that we all need to understand and eventually master. Falling into depression, anxiety, stress…etc. aren’t the end results. They are the triggers to pivot our plan and try something different.
While I read so many books about happiness, motivation, creative thinking and self-discipline, this book is the first one I read about the deep biological science behind happiness.
The book, Habits of a Happy Brian: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, and Endorphin Levels, examines the power of creating and sticking to happiness habits for 45 days in order to stimulate the four happy chemicals in our bodies; Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, and Endorphin.
In order to explain this idea, the author illustrated, in details, the science behind those happy chemicals and the purpose of each one so we can eventually come up with an action plan that is needed to stimulate them.
“When you feel good, your brain is releasing dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, or endorphin. You want more of these great feelings because your brain is designed to seek them. But you don’t always get it, and that’s natural too. Our brain doesn’t release a happy chemical until it sees a way to meet a survival need, like food, safety, and social support. And then, you only get a quick spurt before your brain returns to neutral so it’s ready for the next “survival opportunity.” This is why you feel up and down. It’s nature’s operating system!”
The Happy Chemicals and the Purpose of Each One
The four happy chemicals that flow in our bodies are:
- Dopamine: produces the joy of finding things that meet your needs—the “Eureka! I got it!” feeling.
- Endorphin: produces oblivion that masks pain—often called euphoria.
- Oxytocin: produces the feeling of being safe with others—now called bonding.
- Serotonin: produces the feeling of being respected by others—pride.
Why do we need each one of them? the purposes of these chemicals are:
- Dopamine: motivates you to get what you need, even when it takes a lot of effort.
- Endorphin: motivates you to ignore pain, so you can escape from harm when you’re injured.
- Oxytocin: motivates you to trust others, to find safety in companionship.
- Serotonin: motivates you to get respect, which expands your mating opportunities and protects your offspring.
Stimulating the Happy Chemicals
Each happy chemical is stimulated by different motives and hence can provide happiness in different form as the following:
- Dopamine: is stimulate by seeking rewards so it is what we feel when we expect a reward.
- Endorphin: is stimulated by ignoring the physical pain for a short period of time until we can have the chance to escape the current situation, even if we are very tired, and to reach to a safer condition.
- Oxytocin: is stimulated by building social alliances so it is the pleasure of letting down your guard near those you trust. It’s not the conscious decision to trust, but the physical feeling of safety you get from proximity to trusted others.
- Serotonin: is stimulated by getting respect from others and the feeling of being important.
The Need to the Habits of a Happy Brain
Can we live on happy moments only? Well, the science tells us that we cannot. As the author illustrated “your brain needs unhappy chemicals to call attention to threats and obstacles, just as it needs happy chemicals to call attention to opportunities”. Unhappy chemicals act as a natural security alarm for us. Pain, regret, fear, stress, anxiety…etc. are all needed to proactively act to serious threats and prevent unhappiness in the long term.
Despite of that, it is necessary to develop a habits that stimulate the happy chemicals in our bodies. The author suggested that a 45days is needed to create such habits. The habits that we need according to each type of chemical are:
- Dopamine: celebrate small victories on daily basis… commit yourself to find them and celebrate your progress no matter what other stuff you have to do in your day. Always divide any big goal into smaller steps as this type of thinking will stimulate Dopamine, i.e. happiness.
- Endorphin: make laugh a key part of your day… find what makes you laugh and make time for it. Moreover, find time for daily exercising and stretching.
- Oxytocin: build on proxy trust, i.e. have an animal, a digital friend, or a crowd so you can trust without the fear of being disappointed. Additionally, make effort to be trustworthy by creating opportunities for people to trust you.
- Serotonin: express pride of what you have done and notice your influence on the people around you.
Finally, the author concluded that when you are struggling in stimulating those happy chemicals, you need train your brain using one of the tools that you already have which are:
- Mirror: find someone with the habit that you want and mirror him/her.
- Balance: develop the happy chemicals you’re not already best at.
- Graft: build new happy circuits onto old happy roots.
- Energy: save your energy for tough challenges.
- Legacy: preserve your unique individual essence to please your inner mammal.
- Fun: find the fun in a new behavior and you will repeat it.
- Chunk: divide difficult challenges into smaller parts.
- Satisfice: a satisfactory solution may be better than an endless quest for optimal.
- Plan: start building circuits now so they’re ready when you need them.
- Visualize: your neural pathways are building even though they’re not visible.
“It’s not easy to manage this brain we’ve inherited from our ancestors. It’s the challenge that comes with the gift of life”.