Say what? Is this true? Yes, it is absolutely true! Joy, happiness, positive thoughts, being optimistic; however you describe it, most of us want our lives to have more of it. We tend to think that outside influences will determine whether we are happy or sad, joyful or depressed, but perhaps we’ve been looking at it from the wrong side of the coin. What if happiness and joy begin and end with our own thoughts, which allow us to see more happiness and joy in our daily life?
More and more scientists and doctors are believing that happiness and joy are emotions that may actually prevent and reverse a cascade of cellular events that can lead to disease. When we feel a sense of joy, we have greater immune system function, a reduction in the stress chemical cortisol, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and an overall improved sense of well-being.
Our brains are responsible for the production of four main ‘feel good’ chemicals and our thoughts are often responsible for triggering their release. Once we understand this, we can have influence over it for our own benefit!
Endorphins: Endorphins have a chemical structure similar to opiates and mask pain or discomfort. The word endorphin means “self-produced morphine”, in other words, endorphins cause us to feel better. Exercise, laughter and stretching release them as well as smelling vanilla and lavender and eating chocolate and spicy food! Acupuncture is also believed to trigger endorphin production.
Dopamine: Dopamine motivates us to take action and helps us to stick-with-it until we reach our goal. The anticipation of the reward alone can trigger the release of dopamine! Therefore, it’s best to break goals down into small steps and celebrate along the way to get into the practice of building new dopamine pathways in our brain.
Oxytocin: Oxytocin is about trust and healthy relationships. Skin-to-skin contact, social bonding, eye contact, snuggling with your favorite pet, and sharing a hug are all ways to release oxytocin. It’s essential for creating and maintaining strong bonds, healthy relationships and improved social interactions. No wonder I’m a hugger!
Serotonin: Serotonin helps us with our confidence and significance in our world, among many other different roles. It’s the one that seems to control our overall mood. Feelings of love, respect and significance help serotonin to flow. Developing a strong belief in our own worth is a great way to increase our serotonin production. Also, 20 minutes of sunshine a day helps promote vitamin D and serotonin production.
Positive thoughts create positive brain function, causing our brains to produce more of the above ‘feel good’ chemicals giving us a sense of well-being. Positive thoughts also lead to higher brain function, improved cognition and mental productivity, and an improved ability to analyze and think. That all sounds good to me!
Don’t beat yourself up if you tend to have more negative than positive thoughts, that’s how we used to be wired. Back in our hunter/gatherer days it served us well for self protection and preservation. The times have changed, however, and evolution is showing us that a more positive approach to life is the route to go.
The good news is that our brains are neuroplastic, or changeable, as long as we’re alive! That means it’s never too late to create new pathways for our brain to follow. The more we think positive thoughts, the more our brain will react and help us to feel more positive. Don’t despair if it feels a little awkward at first. Think of it as if you’re learning a new language; at first it’s difficult and causes frustration. You feel like you’re never going to learn it. Then one day something that feels magical happens and you feel a little euphoric when you recognize you’re ‘getting it’! The rewards are great if you stick with it.
Joyful thoughts lead to joyful brain pathways lead to joyful thoughts lead to joyful brain pathways . . .
Here’s to you and to creating your own happiness and joy! <3