You may be wondering what “EDSO” is. Well I watched at TED Talk a little while back and it’s an acronym that helped me remember the “happy chemicals” that occur in our bodies; endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.
When we ask ourselves what makes us happy, we often think of the circumstances, possessions, or people in our lives. In reality, happiness is truly a chemical experience. Four main neurochemicals, hormones, and neurotransmitters generated in the brain are responsible for creating the emotions we associate with happiness.
This is actually great news, because it means even when circumstances, possessions, or people in our lives aren’t exactly as we’d like them to be, there are simple ways we can increase our “happy” brain chemicals and change our moods.
I talk about this with my clients at the gym and most seem to understand the concept. For example, I’ll often have a client tell me about the rush of dopamine she just got from performing an exercise that they didn’t think they could do or the “runner’s high” aka endorphin rush that people feel from doing cardiovascular training.
Remember those four neurochemicals that I mentioned earlier? Well here they are and here’s how you can change your mood:
Endorphins are produced by the central nervous system to help us deal with physical pain. They also make us feel light-headed and even “giddy” at times. As I mentioned earlier, one way to induce endorphins is through exercise aka “runner’s high.”
Endorphins are released after both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. A recent study found that as little as 30 minutes of walking on a treadmill for 10 days in a row significantly reduces depression among clinically depressed patients.
Dopamine is known as the “reward chemical.” When we score a goal, hit a target, or accomplish a task, we receive a shot of dopamine in our brain that tells us that we’ve done a good job. But we can also get a natural dose of dopamine when we perform acts of kindness toward others.
Volunteering has been shown to increase dopamine as well as have other long-term health benefits. And some research has even found that it only takes kind thoughts to trigger the dopamine high.
Serotonin may be the best-known happiness chemical, because it’s the one that antidepressant medication primarily addresses. Serotonin can be triggered by most things that we do on a daily basis. For example, exposure to bright light, especially sunshine, is one way to increase serotonin. Exercise, happy thoughts, and some research has found that a higher intake of tryptophan-heavy foods may increase serotonin levels as well.
The last one is oxytocin and mothers may be very familiar with oxytocin, because it’s the hormone produced at high levels during pregnancy. It’s also the high behind MDMA, a popular party drug, which releases oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin is primarily associated with loving touch and close relationships.
This hormone is usually triggered with dopamine and serotonin, which reduces anxiety and explains its addictive nature. To get your hit of oxytocin without popping ecstasy, give someone you love a cuddle. Even a pet will do and I think this explains why a lot of us are pet owners and why pet owners, married couples, etc. are said to live longer. More oxytocin means less stress and stress kills.
If you’re like me, happiness may at times feel unachievable no matter what you do. But luckily, our brains and bodies are constantly undergoing complex chemical processes that we can affect through our daily actions. Once we understand how our feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters work, we may be able to trigger them more easily than we realized.
So get up and get moving. Chances are you’ll feel better.