Most people love feeling good, and seek this sensation in many ways. There are four methods we can turn ourselves on:
1. Artificial Drugs
Most artificial drugs (including caffeine), cause fast-acting shifts in our moods. Unfortunately they diminish our own natural process for creating pleasure. For example, although nicotine may quickly decrease anxiety, it lowers the brain’s natural source of pleasure, serotonin. As a result, when people feel they need a cigarette, they get cranky, crave food, and may even experience symptoms of depression. Additionally, since serotonin is needed for healthy brain functioning, the lack of it can cause us to think slower and less clearly when not under the influence (this is a nice way of saying we get stupid with age). Consider the downside the next time you reach for another cup of coffee or end your day with a cocktail.
The next drug of choice in our society is adrenalin. We can naturally pump ourselves up by setting too many goals, by taking on the responsibility for too many problems, by over-achieving and under relaxing, and by seeking the “rush” we’ve come to love.
Adrenalin can help us to handle many things at once. However, the body can take only so much adrenalin before it crashes, making us sick, moody, and possibly burnt out with no feelings at all. Biochemist Matt Church says, “If you draw on adrenalin for everyday activities you will either die from heart disease or become so moody from the resulting chemical imbalance that your relationships fall apart.” We often blame our woes on external stressors when in reality, we’ve created the stress by overproducing adrenalin.
As you can guess, it is better to produce happiness naturally, with endorphins and serotonin. These naturally-produced chemicals act as neurotransmitters, meaning they facilitate the network of cells in the brain to communicate with one another. Neurotransmitters regulate mental functioning, mood, the sleep cycle, appetite, and memory. They are activated by certain foods, exercise, and our emotional states, particularly happiness and appreciation. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio says that “joy and its variants lead to greater functional perfection.” Cheerfulness increases ease, efficiency, rapidity, and power in the operations of the neural network.
When it comes to getting high naturally, endorphins have received most of the press. We’ve read about this natural pain killer dubbed “the runner’s high.” However, most of us do not run the distance it takes to elevate our endorphin levels. To increase your endorphins without running, try laughing more often. Then stop and smell the roses. Appreciation, love, and laughter increases brain functioning, feeding creativity and clearing the way to see more options and possibilities.
On the other hand, regular exercise actually produces serotonin, which is just as good as endorphins and lasts longer.
In fact, the most powerful mood booster is serotonin. A brain stocked with serotonin evens out our temperament, keeping us off the roller-coaster of emotions most of us experience in a day. When you are feeling sluggish or crabby, boost your serotonin by eating a small dose of carbohydrates, such as a piece of fruit or energy bar. You can add in some protein, such as a hand full of nuts or a few slices of turkey which also has tryptophan to make you feel good. Also, drink lots of water. A craving for sugar can actually be the initial stages of dehydration. Stretching, low impact aerobics, yoga, tai chi and light weight lifting all keep serotonin levels in ready supply. Also, singing, chanting, and playing or listening to music evens out the rhythm of our brain waves.
Go for the natural high. Not only will you feel great, you will act much smarter.