January 24


Happiness: The Neuroscience

Happiness 101

You have probably heard the expression that “happiness is a way of life not a destination” You probably also believe that “happiness is the simple things in life” yet happiness can elude many of us at times.

Whether you’re happy, sad, frustrated, overwhelmed or something else altogether it comes down to your neuroscience. The wiring of our brains is what defines all of our experiences and our behaviours. It makes sense therefore that the best way to understand any aspect of the human experience is to look at what is happening in that thing between our ears.

This is particularly useful if you’re trying to improve your mood and be happier.

So… what is going on inside that brain of yours when you feel truly content and at peace. And more importantly what can you do to feel like that more often?


Ultimately our mood comes down to chemistry – specifically it comes down to neurochemicals or ‘neurotransmitters’ which are produced in the brain in response to certain other activities in the brain. When you think of something or experience something that is happy, sad, scary or stressful, the brain responds in kind by producing the relevant neurotransmitter. These transmitters include serotonin, cortisol, norepinephrine, dopamine, oxytocin, adenosine and many others.

When it comes to happiness, we want to increase the number of ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters which include serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine. These are chemicals that make us feel alert, happy, content and even loved. On the other hand, we want to reduce ones like cortisol (which makes us stressed).

How to Control Neurochemistry

At this point, you might be wondering how you can control your neurochemistry. One way of course is with drugs and that’s where recreational drugs and antidepressants come in. Antidepressants often work by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain or increasing GABA which makes us tired but also reduces cortisol.

The problem with changing brain chemistry directly though is that the brain is all about adaptation. If you add a certain amount of particular chemicals to your brain then it will often respond by producing less of those chemicals naturally. This can then lead to tolerance, dependence and withdrawal symptoms – worsening depression and triggering addiction.

Natural Ways To Improve Your Mood

Diet impacts on which neurotransmitters our brain can create.Walnuts are one of the richest dietary sources of serotonin. A chemical in your brain that helps create calm and happiness. A recent Spanish study found that those who ate a daily 1-ounce combo of walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds had more of this feel-good substance than a nut-free group

Sleep more.

Too little shut-eye has been linked to an increased risk of car crashes, poor work performance and problems with mood!  Sleep deprivation is bad for the immune system, and linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and depression (to name but a few).

Listen to music

Need I say more, you know it works! I have a playlist on my phone called “dance break” Every hour when I’m working a timer goes off. I tell Siri to “play Dance Break” and I have a little boogie in the kitchen while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil – music, exercise and rehydration… what’s not to love :)


Again you know it works and you could make a YouTube playlist in minutes that would lift your mood

Be outdoors

natural light enhances mood or try a light therapy lamp


I know this might not be something you want to do, especially if you are in a rut… but its the quickest way to change the chemistry of your brain and lift your mood

Spending time with others will boost your mood, so long as you choose the right people to spend time with!

Ultimately though, the very best way to control your mood is to change what you focus on and the way you react to what you focus on. Remember, your neurotransmitters are released in reaction to your subjective experiences. Change your experience by changing your beliefs and you can improve that neurochemistry.


Be Happier, Brain, happiness, Improve Your Mood, Neuroscience, Neurotransmitters, Serotonin

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