Sometimes, human emotions seem unpredictable and beyond the understanding of cold science. However, all of our emotions, including happiness, are actually largely controlled by chemical messengers and receptors.
Some aspects of how these chemical chains of events are set off by the world around us are still not entirely understood. The processes themselves, however, are fairly well explained in the science of happiness.
What Causes Happiness?
While there are things that scientists have trouble with when studying emotion, the basic mechanics of emotion are fairly well understood.
Chemical messengers called neurotransmitters are produced in various parts of the body. Once released, these neurotransmitters travel to and through the brain until they are taken up by receptors on the ends of nerve cells.
Once the receptors are activated, the activities of the nerve cell are changed. Depending on the function and location of the nerve cell and the neurotransmitter involved, this can mean a number of different things. In the case of the neurotransmitters that deal with emotion, neurotransmitters can change the ways in which we think and feel.
Neurotransmitters don’t just control emotion, however. They also allow us to carry out physical activities. We’ll get more into the details of that in a little bit but for now it’s important to understand that that may be part of why some situations or physical actions can have an emotional impact on us.
By experiencing or preparing our bodies for a given situation, we also get all of the emotional effects of the required neurotransmitter.
The Neurotransmitters That Make You Happy
There are a lot of neurotransmitters. We may not have identified them all, and we may not completely understand all of those that we have identified. However, we do know that there are a few key neurotransmitters that influence happiness.
Oxytocin is one well known neurotransmitter responsible for happiness, specifically feelings of closeness. This neurotransmitter is released when you are close to people. It’s often thought of romantically, but it is also important and parental bonds with children and even to some extent in platonic and non-familial bonds like those that we share with friends. If you’re feeling down, spending some time with people that you are close too may help to put this happiness chemical to work.
Endorphins are another neurotransmitter involved in happiness, specifically feelings of excitement and satisfaction. What is most interesting about endorphins is that their release is caused by physical activities like working out and even laughing. Going for a run may help you to feel happier, even if you don’t particularly enjoy exercising.
Serotonin is another neurotransmitter involved in happiness, and another one that can be boosted by physical activity. It also goes up when you spend time in the sun. Like the other neurotransmitters discussed here, serotonin doesn’t only makes you happy, it also regulates your body’s internal clock. If your internal clock is disrupted, it can also throw off your serotonin levels. This is often the case for night owls or people who work night shifts in 24-hour industries.
What Causes Unhappiness?
Because emotions are caused – at least in part – by the production, release, and uptake of neurotransmitters, any issue in this system can lead to emotional disturbances.
Some scientists believe that problems with the production of the neurotransmitters responsible for happiness or problems with their receivers, could cause depression.
Also, because neurotransmitters are responsible for emotions and physical actions, some medications can have emotional side effects. Similarly, many drugs impact the way that various neurotransmitters are released and received in the brain. While they may make a person feel good at the time, they can interfere with the natural process, making the person reliant on the drug.
The science of happiness may help to make you happier. Doing things that you enjoy is important too, however, even if this article didn’t mention one of your favorite things, if you don’t find joy in anything and reading this article didn’t help you boost your mood, consider talking to your doctor.
Be sure to mention any medications that you’re taking. Mood disorders like depression can happen for a number of reasons but if it’s happening to you because of a medication that you are taking it might be a simple fix.