And How They Translate Into Feelings and Social Behavior

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I recently read a book by Loretta Graziano Breuning titled Habits of a Happy Brain. The author’s research thinks outside of the box and is evidently powered by an unconventional, multi-disciplinary education. Breuning advocates for a way to stimulate the release of neurotransmitters through intentional behavior linked to our social relationships. She maintains a blog on Psychology Today’s website called “Your Neurochemical Self,” it’s very interesting. While I am still letting what she has to teach in Habits of a Happy Brain percolate, and test out its claims for myself, I found the breakdown of how different neurotransmitters translate to feelings and actions really fascinating. So fascinating in fact, I want to share some of the highlights with you.

Dopamine, Breuning explains, is the neurotransmitter that releases when we “identify a chance to meet a survival need” and go for it! She uses the example of an ape who sees a piece of fruit on a tree, and the surge of excitement it experiences as it is climbing up the tree to get to the fruit. The thrill felt in such a scenario is powered by the release of Dopamine. Breuning explains that we might feel the same way when we go for a career opportunity, or accumulate points while playing a video game, since our survival needs are no longer necessarily as basic as they had once been.

Endorphins are responsible for that feeling of a natural high after an intensive workout. Endorphins are also the body’s natural analgesic, they numb our pain in the event of injury, long enough to get us to safety. Both laughter and tears release endorphins, so, Breuning advises, crying and laughter could be applied to relieve our emotional pains because they release endorphins. Naturally, she cautions against too much crying.

Oxytocin is the trust building neurochemical. It is released when we experience or establish trust bonds, feel a part of a community, and in acts of physical affection or intimacy. I found Breuning’s behavioral adjustment advice in relation to oxytocin really fascinating. We can manipulate the release of oxytocin by attempting to build trust bonds. Blind attempts to build trust, she warns, could be harmful; therefore, the idea is that you test your attempt to build trust, rather than assume every attempt is going to be successful. Eventually, Breuning teaches, you learn to derive your oxytocin from the attempt/test model, rather than the outcomes of attempts.

Serotonin is the neurochemical released when we receive recognition and respect. serotonin is also responsible for our feeling secure in the world; secure in our resources and in the esteem of others. A healthy way of promoting serotonin, Breuning writes, is to notice and enjoy your influence on others when it occurs. This is better than the usual route to experiencing the emotional benefits of serotonin, which are achieved through competitive seeking of recognition or resources or exerting dominance over others.

Samar Habib is a writer, researcher and educator who lives in California. She’s passionate about reducing suffering and increasing compassion in the world, one mind at a time. When she’s not busy figuring out how things work and how they could be working better, you’ll find her sharing what she’s learned in seminars, public lectures, books and online courses. In fact, you can check out more of her lifestyle management hacks by taking her course Quantum Mind: Stop Suffering and Take Back Your Life. You can get in touch with her on drsamarhabib [at] email [dot] com

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