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It’s a no-brainer that we all want to be happy.
In fact, it’s what drives many of to abuse drugs or alcohol. That sweeping feeling that all is well in the world. Your problems are out of sight. You feel good.
The drugs flood your brain with feel-good chemicals. You feel, quite honestly, better than you ever did before.
Your brain, sensing the overload, puts the brakes on its own production of feel-good chemicals.
It all works out fairly well (except for the huge risks to your health and well-being) until you become addicted. Then, you need more and more heroin, alcohol, Adderall or cocaine just to feel normal. Feeling good isn’t really on the table anymore.
The next logical step? You try to quit. And when you do you still feel lousy.
That’s because your brain still has the brakes on. It’ll take time to begin producing dopamine, serotonin and endorphins at healthy levels. In the meantime, here are a few things you can do to help kick-start your happiness.
- Get moving. Exercise boosts the body’s natural production of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. The result is that you feel happier and calmer. And you don’t have to jog five miles to reap these benefits. Taking a walk or participating in low-impact activities like yoga will also boost your mood.
- You can double down on the benefits of exercise by getting your workout in outside. Research shows that sunlight can also boost dopamine levels.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Research suggests that lack of sleep causes a reduction in the number of dopamine receptors.
- Listen to music. We all know that music has the ability to move us emotionally—and there’s a scientific explanation for that. Listening to music that you love actually causes a release of dopamine in the brain.
- Eat right. Saturated fat, sugar and artificial sweeteners all deplete the brain’s natural feel-good chemicals. So what should you eat? Complex carbohydrates (like whole grains and sweet potatoes), meat, dairy products, leafy green vegetables, fruit, salmon, nuts, beans eggs and foods high in probiotics.
- Meditate. Entering a meditative state elevates the body’s feel-good chemicals. But you don’t necessarily have to be sitting still. Hobbies such as knitting, painting, gardening and woodworking can achieve the same calming effects.
- Don’t underestimate the power of a hug. The body responds to hugs (or other kinds of touch like petting a dog, getting a massage or having sex) by releasing a surge of oxytocin. This so called “love hormone” promotes trust and bonding, while reducing stress and anxiety.
- Be (small) goal oriented. Research shows that meeting a goal results in a dopamine spike. On the flip side, failing to meet a goal feels bad. The take-home is to break a goal into a series of small achievable tasks. A bad goal, therefore, might be to attain lifelong perfect health. Instead, consider shooting for three small goals for the next day. Maybe to drink six glasses of water, take a 30 minute walk and eat five servings of fruits and vegetables. There is a sense of satisfaction that comes with crossing off items on a to do list—and it’s backed up by science.
Can petting a dog and taking a walk in the sunshine compare with the rush of shooting heroin? Or course not. Science tells us that the feel-good chemicals released by drugs are two to 10 times as high as those produced by the body.
But that’s not the whole story. Drugs are just a loan on good feelings and the payback can eventually take everything you have.
Eating right, exercising, developing good relationships, meditating and setting goals are the small everyday steps that lead to a lifetime of peace, joy and freedom.
About The Raleigh House
The Raleigh House is a residential treatment center located in Denver that believes addiction isn’t just a physical problem. Our master’s level trained therapists get to the root cause of addiction and will help you develop a strategy to manage and enjoy life without drugs or alcohol. Fill out our form or contact us today to learn more about the treatment programs at The Raleigh House.