These days doctors, professionals and therapists are always talking about sadness and depression. They prescribe pills, therapies and treatment cycles to ‘get rid of depression’ or ‘stop anxiety.’ So much effort is put into removing patients from a negative mind state but hardly any research goes in to the many benefits of getting into a positive mindset. Health and happiness are intrinsically linked; you can’t have one without the other. Your mind and body are very interconnected in complex and not yet fully understood ways. Real happiness will contribute positively to real good health.
There has been a lot of talk about brain chemistry and neurotransmitters in the scientific and mental health community lately. While they still don’t know for certain, some scientists believe that a happy state of mind depends on finding the proper balance of these brain chemicals. Most antidepressants now are SSRI’s, meaning selective serotonin repute inhibitors. This includes antidepressants like Zoloft, Paxil and Prozac. Serotonin is known as the body’s mood chemical. Larger amounts of serotonin lead to increased feelings of well being and sociability, which is why MDMA is such a popular drug, it releases a massive amount of serotonin into the brain at once leading to unnatural feelings of contentment.
A similar chemical, known as dopamine, or the reward hormone, regulates what we find exciting, stimulating or pleasurable. Dopamine is released naturally when you do something pleasing or satisfying. Cocaine and methamphetamine both release unnatural amounts of dopamine into the brain.
Endorphins, or endogenous morphine, regulates your feelings of pain, and works like a natural opiate. It gets released naturally due to pain, strenuous exercise or exhaustion, but can be chemically reproduced by using a drug like morphine. So if these drugs can release the natural chemicals that make you happy, why do so many cocaine or morphine users seem so unhappy?
The answer is that true happiness can’t be reproduced chemically. When a person is truly happy these hormones interact in a way that no drug can reproduce. Once the high has worn off, the user is left feeling even more depressed because their brain chemistry has been unbalanced. The brain contains another chemical that can influence behaviour more than any others. This is oxytocin. It is only released when you create a special bond of trust with someone, such as between a mother and her child. While oxytocin can cause feelings of joy, it can also cause anxiety as well. It is neither a ‘happy hormone’ nor a mood stabilizing chemical, but rather something very human that can only be released when we have a special bond or emotional experience. It can’t be replicated by drugs, only by the brain of a truly happy person.
Now, though it my sound far fetched, one of the most important keys to happiness is keeping a positive outlook and trying to think positive thoughts. This is helpful even when you’re feeling sad. Negative emotions and thoughts cause a negative response in the brain, whereas positive thoughts produce a positive reaction, releasing serotonin and dopamine at natural levels. Basically your body responds and corresponds to your state of mind. If you have a positive outlook your body will react by releasing more positive neurotransmitters, thus leading to more happy thoughts. If you have a negative mind set then your brain will respond negatively, perpetuating a cycle of depression. People who consider themselves optimists reported being much happier overall than those who did not.
The power of positive thinking has been proven to strengthen and multiply the synapses in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is the part responsible for your feelings and emotions, your behaviour and your ambition. This makes positive thought very important to leading a happy life. Similarly, thinking negatively will leave your prefrontal cortex underdeveloped and thus predisposed to feelings of depression.
Fortunately you can train your brain to adapt to more positive thinking patterns. It can be a difficult process , but once you are able to banish negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones, even in unpleasant situations, then you have begun to control your emotions, which is a major key to happiness.
Instead of rushing off to the doctor for a prescription when you’re feeling down, or even worse, trying to elevate your mood with drugs and alcohol, try thinking positive thoughts and imagine yourself in a happy position. Just these thoughts will help to relieve stress and depression, and it is much cheaper, healthier and safer for your body than taking prescription medications or using drugs to cope. So work hard and train your brain to use more positive thought patterns, not only will it benefit your mental state, but it will leave you feeling healthier physically as well.
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