While there are countless physiological and environmental factors that play a role in determining our levels of happiness, only about half of these factors are affected by genetics. This means that, for the most part, our happiness and moods are determined by our own thoughts, actions and behaviors.
- The limbic system is the area of the human brain that’s responsible for emotions, including the formation of positive memories and achieving states of happiness.
- Serotonin is the neurotransmitter most commonly associated with happiness. In addition to producing feelings of happiness, serotonin also helps to regulate learning, sexuality, sleep, appetite, and other emotions.
- Dopamine is the neurotransmitter most commonly associated with reward. Dopamine effects the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, as well as, movement and emotional responses.
Understanding how these elements work, and how to use them to your advantage, is the key to happiness – scientifically speaking.
Stimulating your brain in the right ways can increase serotonin and dopamine production – improving your mood, and resulting in positive, lasting effects on your state of mind.
Eating the right foods is an essential part of maintaining a positive mood. Folate, or folic acid, vitamin B6, omega-3 fatty acids, and healthy carbohydrates are all crucial elements to a happy and healthy diet.
Among other benefits, these mood-boosting nutrients provide prolonged energy, promote serotonin and dopamine synthesis, stabilize blood sugar levels, and improve metabolism.
A few food groups that are good sources of mood-boosting nutrients include; fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. You can also get your necessary intake of these nutrients through any number of multivitamins or nutritional supplements.
Exercise is just as important to your mental health as it is to your physical health. Exercising increases circulation – carrying more oxygen to your brain, and releases endorphins, which generate feelings of relaxation and well-being.
In a study of patients diagnosed with depression, conducted by Duke University Medical Center, those treated with medication were four times more likely to relapse into depression, than those who were treated with exercise.
Simply going outside can also improve mood. Whether going for a walk, or sitting under a tree, spending as little as 20 minutes a day outside, not only improves mood, but it also promotes thought and strengthens memory.
Think Happy Thoughts
Stimulating your mind with positive thoughts, is another important aspect to making your brain happy.
One way to accomplish this is by distinguishing between your positive, happy thoughts, and your negative, unwanted thoughts. Make a conscious effort to regularly think about things that make you happy, and limit thoughts that elicit negative feelings.
Completing tasks also promotes positive brain activity. A job well done, whether professionally, academically, or recreationally, will activate the reward center of your brain, and bestow a sense of satisfaction and happiness.
Get Some Sleep
If you’re working long hours, pulling all-nighters, and running on caffeine, you’re actually decreasing your overall performance, and simultaneously inhibiting your happiness.
Though it’s easy to grow accustomed to being sleep-deprived, the reality is that not getting enough sleep has broad sweeping effects on your health, and your happiness.
Incidentally, getting adequate sleep not only helps you to be happier, but being happier will also help you get better sleep.
Practice, Practice, Practice
As with working to improve any other skill, achieving lasting happiness requires a proper training regime. Practicing positive behaviors, actions and thinking, getting proper rest, and eating the right foods, will – in time – improve your ability to maintain a happier state of mind.