Indeed, a positive mental state impacts motivation, productivity, and wellbeing.
So, can we train our brains to make us happier and more productive?
We certainly can!
According to Loretta Breuning PH. D we have the ability to work
with our natural chemical building blocks to increase happiness and
produce a natural, feel-good high. Breuning points out that we have two
different brain systems, the limbic system and the cortex, that work
together to keep us alive and protect our DNA. Each system has its
The limbic system produces the neurochemicals which serve as a
survival mechanism and tell the body what is good or bad for us, while
the cortex, which surrounds the limbic system, looks for patterns in
the present that match patterns stored in the past. When something good
is happening for us, four main happy chemicals – dopamine,
endorphin, oxytocin and serotonin are released to tell us
this is good for us - go toward it. The body, however, does not always
act on these messages because the cortex can override our 'animal'
The limbic system, the mammal part of the brain, then tries again.
The cortex helps by directing attention and sifting information, while
the limbic brain sparks the action.
As expected, happy chemicals did not evolve to be on all the time;
instead, they evolved to promote our survival. However, if we know how
our brain processes work, we can experience more happy chemicals and
limit unhappy chemicals (which we also need).
Here are some natural ways to increase our happy chemicals. We
accomplish this by stimulating our positive neurochemicals and by
limiting unhappy chemicals:
1. Dopamine: Embrace a new goal.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward
and pleasure centers. It enables us not only to see rewards, but to
take action to move toward them. It also helps regulate movement and
emotional responses. Anticipating a reward triggers dopamine. This
'expectation' of reward alone can trigger a good feeling and release
the energy needed to reach the reward. It motivates us to seek and
persist. Therefore, in order to trigger dopamine, endeavor to embrace a
new goal and each day take small steps toward achieving it. Your brain
will reward you with dopamine each time you take a step. In turn, the
repetition will build a new dopamine pathway to replace a less
productive one in the form of a bad, or unproductive, habit.
2. Endorphin: Take time to laugh
Endorphins are typically released in response to pain and stress. A
common example is the euphoric 'runner's high' or the surging second
wind after a grueling run. Endorphin is also released to help an
injured animal escape from a predator. Its release evolved for purposes
of survival for humans and animals alike.
Fortunately, one of the easiest ways to induce endorphin release is
to laugh or exercise. Even the anticipation or expectation of laughter
(as in attending a comedy show) can increase levels of endorphin.
Likewise, we have a heard of how the release of endorphins is one of
the great benefits
Not surprisingly, aromatherapies, such as the smell of vanilla and
lavender have also been linked with the releasing of endorphins.
Similarly, studies have shown that dark chocolate and spicy foods can
trigger its production.
3. Oxytocin: Build trust consciously.
Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter. It
regulates social interaction and plays a role in bonding, empathy, and
When we hug or kiss a loved one oxytocin levels increase. Actually,
this hormone plays a huge role in all pair bonding. Trust also triggers
oxytocin. Conversely, your brain releases unhappy chemicals when your
trust is betrayed. You can stimulate oxytocin by building trust
consciously. Continued steps in building trust in others as well as in
yourself will build oxytocin circuits.
According to Dr. Paul Zak, an expert on oxytocin, a simple way to keep it flowing is to give someone a hug. He explains that inter-personal touch not only raises oxytocin, it reduces cardiovascular stress and improves the immune system.
4. Serotonin: Believe in yourself.
Certainly, we all have ups and downs, wins and losses, however if we
focus on the downs/losses we will decrease our serotonin levels. If,
however, we reflect upon our achievements, practice gratitude, and
think about the good things we've accomplished, we can boost serotonin
Each of the four happy chemicals has evolved to do a job. They work
by making you feel good which, in turn, motivates you to go after that
which triggered them. However, the brain only releases happy chemicals in
limited bursts and for a specific purpose. It did not evolve to release
them all the time. If it had, the happy chemicals could not do their
For example, you need unhappy chemicals, such as cortisol, to warn
or alert you to potential harm. Since the world can sometimes be a
dangerous and threatening place, ideally we need to balance our happy
chemicals with our less happy chemicals.
Fortunately for us, our brains and bodies are constantly evolving
and experiencing complex chemical processes which we have the ability