When people hear the word “happiness” they can think of things in life that make them happy – like time spent with loved ones, relaxing weekends, or vacations. Or they may view happiness as something they will feel when they achieve certain goals, such as getting married, getting a promotion, or having children.
On a much more basic level, however, happiness boils down to hormones – with heavy hitters like serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins.
We spoke to endocrinologist Dr. Mary Ryan for her advice on how to boost your happiness hormones and be the best version of yourself!
Types of happiness hormones
“Serotonin is your primary happiness hormone,” Dr. Ryan told RSVP magazine. “Serotonin controls your mood, your sleep, your ability to learn, your sanity, your appetite, your digestion.
“Then we have dopamine, a feel-good hormone associated with pleasure, learning and memory. Oxytocin is often referred to as the “hug hormone” or love hormone. It happens when we are breastfeeding, cuddling or kissing and it helps you bond with others. Endorphins are another hormone used for pain relief. So if you are very stressed, exercising, or in pain, endorphin levels are increased.
Dr. Ryan explains that 95% of serotonin is found in the gut, so gut health is very important.
“Serotonin controls your mood, sleep, learning ability, sanity, appetite, and digestion, so having healthy gut flora is very important,” she says.
“Foods like sauerkraut and kimchi are good probiotics, or you can buy probiotic supplements. If your diet is healthy you shouldn’t need too many supplements, but we all have busy lives and we all rush so we don’t necessarily get all the nutrients we need.
Dr. Ryan always urges his patients to eat a balanced and nutritious diet and to avoid sugary and processed foods as much as possible. She adds that certain foods can also boost your happiness hormones. “Spicy foods and bananas can help boost your dopamine levels, as can yogurt, eggs and beans,” she tells us. “Green tea is also considered good because it is rich in antioxidants, which aids in the metabolism.”
“Staying hydrated is essential – try drinking eight glasses of water a day to make sure your hormone control center is functioning well,” says Dr. Ryan.
Mary says sleep is one of the most basic things to be successful. “Make sure you get eight hours of sleep a night! If you do this, the pituitary gland, which is the center of hormonal control, can recharge and function properly.
Dr Ryan says she constantly encourages her patients to spend more time outdoors because sunlight increases your production of happiness hormones. “Sunlight increases endorphins and other happiness hormones, so that’s really important,” she says.
Dr Ryan believes that during the last lockdown people weren’t doing as many walks as they were fed up with the restrictions and bored within their 5km travel limit – which didn’t help their level of happiness.
“It’s important to stay active because exercise increases your body’s dopamine and serotonin levels,” she says. “However, don’t overdo it, because then you will tire your hormone control center and it won’t work!” Avoid extremes of anything.
“When we are stressed our cortisol level rises and this impinges on your sleep and in turn affects your overall hormonal balance,” says Mary. “People are emotional eaters too – if they’re upset they eat the wrong foods, they eat a lot of sugar and it’s not good. Laughter is a great way to de-stress and it also increases your dopamine.