Hacking into your happy chemicals to experience greater contentment: learn how to positively influence your own hormones to increase your baseline happiness.
Happy vs Content – What Does Being Content and Happy Actually Mean?We may earn affiliate income from the links in this post, at no extra cost to you.
[Ad] Do you feel content and happy? What does that even mean to you – and what do you think it would take for you to start being content?
What if I told you it’s as simple as a little bit of chemistry – the happy hormones, or happy chemicals, within the brain – and that you can hack your way to happiness! The first step is to understand the difference between happiness and pleasure, or being happy vs content, because they’re not quite the same things.
Before getting into how to become more happy or content, it’s really important to first recognise and define the difference between the two.
What makes this task a little trickier is that the two terms are often used interchangeably, but – whatever terminology you prefer – there are two distinct states, with a vital contrast…
Content vs Happy – What’s the Difference?
Happiness, Pleasure, or Joy
Personally, I’ve always thought of happiness as the experience of pleasure or joy.
It’s usually fleeting, or at least it can’t be sustained for periods longer than perhaps a few hours, or days at most. It’s usually brought about by or in response to a particular set of circumstances; when we’re excited by the anticipation of something we’re looking forward to, the arrival of that thing can trigger happiness.
Happiness can be somewhat shallow, though it may equally be triggered by the joy of spending time with a loved one you’ve been apart from – which is very definitely not shallow!
However, this level of pleasure cannot last indefinitely, and will taper off after a while.
Contentment, Sometimes Referred to as Happiness
What we should really be striving for is an acceptable baseline.
When I think about my baseline of happiness, I call it contentment. It’s the benchmark for my longterm satisfaction with life, the level to which I return on a regular day once excitement or euphoria dwindles.
…Which is what makes this state all the more important in terms of a meaningful life in the longer term.
We’re all capable of experiencing great highs when they’re triggered by an event, but what we should really be striving for is an acceptable baseline for the moments in between, so that we’re generally fulfilled.
It’s critical that we understand and accept the difference between these two states, because pursuing the brief highs associated with pockets of joy is not realistic – but learning how to make your baseline the best it can be and having that be enough, is very achievable.
Understanding Your Happy Chemicals
We have four primary chemicals which affect our levels of happiness. These happy hormones, or happy chemicals, are collectively known as the acronym DOSE:
Dopamine is responsible for the first experience I described as joy or pleasure; it’s fleeting and it gives you a genuine ‘high’ feeling.
There’s a bit of a misconception around dopamine, as it’s actually more associated with feelings of anticipation or excitement than with actually happiness or contentment. This means it can be highly addictive – and therefore great for helping to drive new routines and form new habits.
Oxytocin is the ‘love’ chemical and involved with feelings of connection and bonding with loved ones. It’s also responsible for longer term feelings of calm and contentment. It’s reciprocal, in that a hug or gift can cause a release of oxytocin in both parties.
Known as the ‘confidence molecule’, serotonin is related to feelings of accomplishment, pride, and worthiness. This hormone provides the confidence to enable us to put ourselves into situations which may increase self-esteem, creating strong and positive emotions.
Serotonin is also a mood regulator, helping to alleviate feelings of depression or anxiety, and also plays a role in physiological processes. 80% of serotonin can be found in the gut microbiome, and it’s governed by hunger – giving rise to the term ‘hangry’!
Endorphins are the happy chemicals created by an intense workout, and are released in response to pain. They’re what enable us to push through during a long run – leading to ‘runner’s high’. And they’re also the reason that regular exercise can be so beneficial to mood.
How You Can Hack Your Happy Hormones!
Happiness is a choice; positivity is a mindset; gratitude is the path to both.
Having a basic grasp of what each of these chemicals can do for us and what triggers them to be released is the foundation of knowing how to increase your baseline of happiness. To summarise:
- Dopamine is very powerful, but not sustainable;
- Oxytocin is less potent but great for longterm contentment;
- Serotonin is ideal for increasing feelings of self-worth;
- Endorphins can help lift your mood in the longer term.
Armed with all of this information, you’re now in a great position to utilise the knowledge to your advantage. But how?
Being Content is…
1. Choosing happy
I often say happiness is a choice; positivity is a mindset; gratitude is the path to both. While that’s absolutely the truth, it’s not always easy.
A lot of self-reflection and work goes into making the changes required to shift a negative outlook to a positive one – but it’s entirely possible.
I’ve been sent a couple of beautiful books that perfectly align with my values and beliefs in this area and which I can personally recommend. The first, Choose Happy, is a beautiful book full of inspiring wisdom, positive psychology, and activities.
The pastel colours of each page are calming and it’s a joy to pick up and read. It will help you to define what happiness means to you, as well as how to harness and incorporate it into your everyday life.
It’s a wonderful companion to help you on your path towards a more contented life – and it’s all achievable via a shift in mindset. This is one of my very favourite quotes from Choose Happy:
Happiness is a choice and a journey, not a pursuit or a destination.Sarah Gregg, Choose Happy
Embracing this concept will feel like an epiphany.
Author Sarah Gregg is a certified Neuro-Linguistic Programming Practitioner and member of the British Psychological Society. I also highly recommend that you follow Sarah on Instagram @thepowertoreinvent.
If you prefer a book with dedicated pages for jotting your thoughts as you go, you can’t go wrong with The Happiness & Contentment Workbook, by Suryacitta (the Happy Buddha).
This is another gorgeous book, this time a guided journal with lots of reading and lots of white space to journal.
This book contains sections on the inner child, the grandmother mind which I interpreted as similar to shadow work, and our inner rebel! It’s a wonderful complement to doing inner child work or answering shadow work questions, if these are areas you’re focusing on.
Illustrated by Ruth Allen, The Happiness & Contentment Workbook is full of simple, vibrant line drawings, with the contrast of some water coloured elements in the same tone.
Again, it’s a really lovely book to pick up and look through, with the added benefit of some very worthwhile exercises to complete.
Nothing changes, except our perception.
One of the most powerful things we can do to become happier has nothing at all to do with our material circumstances: simply reframe…
Nothing changes, except our perception.
4. Practicing gratitude
Gratitude is the antidote to feeling dissatisfied. It helps us to appreciate all the good we have in our lives, and all the things we have to be thankful for.
Simply listing three things you are grateful for each night for a week can make a huge impact to our feelings of fulfilment, and carrying this routine forward as a habit can begin to change your mindset to a more positive one.
Moving our bodies is enormously beneficial to our wellbeing, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Be it football, dance, swimming, or climbing – keep looking until you find an activity that thrills you!
6. Sunshine and nature
Spending time immersed in nature is also very beneficial for our wellbeing.
According to research, exposure to sunlight can boost serotonin and endorphins. Just 15 minutes a day is beneficial for mental health; vitamin D is used in the production of serotonin, while ultraviolet radiation from the sun increases endorphins.
Plus from personal experience, anecdotally, and confirmed by supporting studies – spending time immersed in nature is also very beneficial for our wellbeing.
Just don’t skip the sunscreen and be sure to use an adequate one with high SPF and UVA/UVB protection.
7. Being positive
Making efforts to become more positive has an incredible influence over our mood – and also the moods of those around us!
8. Finding purpose
Finally, having a sense of purpose in life is critical to wellbeing. It’s what drives us to keep getting up every day, to place one foot in front of the other, and ultimately gives rise to experiencing a life rich in meaning.
If you’d like a handhold through your journey – and a truly lovely one at that – I highly recommend both of these books to accompany you on your development to greater contentment.