Have you ever been in a ragingly dangerous bad mood?
A slumpy, frumpy, dumpy, funk?
This ain't the good kind of funk that gives you a sick beat and great dance moves. Nope, I'm talking about the burnt-out, stressful funk that hits even the best of us on low days.
You know when you just can't snap out of it?
A few weekends ago, I came home from a coffee meeting in a poopy mood. I just felt blah. I tried reading, making myself a bowl of delicious cereal and watching some Netflix-nothing, nada, zilch. I couldn't shake it.
It got me thinking. Why do we have moods? I did some digging and discovered some fascinating science on how our brain and body is tied to our emotions. Specifically: There is a science behind your moods.
I found this incredibly helpful, because if we understand our moods we can know where they come from and how to fix them.
- You're not crazy! Feel like your moods are out of control? There is a chemical explanation.
- You're not alone. The way we feel moods and process emotions is universal, and we can study it to find patterns.
- You are in control. It might feel like our emotions run wild inside of our brain and body, but when approached in a specific way they can be controlled.
Happy vs. Unhappy
Before I get into the science of moods, I do have to say that 'bad' moods aren't 'bad.' They might not be pleasant, but we can understand a lot about the Science of Happiness from our unhappiness. In the words of Dolly Parton: "If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain."
From our research on the psychology of happiness, we know that people who better understand their dark side-or can explore their emotions, benefit in tremendous ways. So, let's explore:
The Science of Moods
... and how to snap out of a funk! I want to explain the different chemicals that affect your bad mood and how to harness them:
No. 1: Serotonin
The feeling of calm.
Sometimes bad moods and funks can happen when we feel listless, out of control or overly emotional. This can come from being around a toxic person or feeling overwhelmed with our schedule or work projects. Enter: Serotonin. Serotonin is a molecule that helps us feel balanced and contributes to our well-being or state of calm. Of the approximately 40 million brain cells, most are influenced either directly or indirectly by serotonin-including those related to mood, sexual desire, appetite, sleep, memory and learning and social behavior. Yup, when your serotonin is out of whack, it feels like everything is out of whack. Some research suggests that an imbalance in serotonin levels may influence mood in a way that leads to depression.
- Serotonin Boost: One of the best ways to get your serotonin pumping naturally is the process of positive reminiscing. Simply, reflecting on your past achievements or thinking about positive memories produces serotonin. On the go, look through your photo albums on your phone or scroll through old Facebook pictures. At home, grab your journal and recall your happiest moments. You might notice after a few minutes, your body desires a long deep breath and you begin to feel like 'it'll all be ok.' When I tried this, I was shocked at how fast I began to feel more in control and calm-that's the serotonin working its magic!
No. 2: Dopamine
The feeling of pleasure.
After a long day at work or really tough meetings, I can feel drained. But mostly, I sometimes feel bored, under-stimulated and blah. That 'blah' mood is a lack of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released when we feel pleasure, get a reward or receive a gift. It's the chemical that makes you feel like it's your birthday every day! What's even more important, is that dopamine helps us regulate our emotional responses. This is super important: When we are in a bad mood, we often have trouble controlling our reactions.
This is where dopamine comes to the rescue! It is also the basis for hope. Dopamine engages our brain to spot potential rewards and to take action to move toward them. In other words, dopamine is our biggest motivator for fighting bad moods. Research has found that dopamine deficiency is linked to Parkinson's Disease, and people with low dopamine activity may be more prone to addiction. This is a serious little molecule!
- Dopamine Boost: There are lots of ways to create pleasure for your mind and body. My favorite PG one is creating a bucket list! I LOVE bucket lists, because they harness the best side of human behavior-hope, curiosity and pleasure. Check out our Ultimate Bucket List Guide or if you already have one, dust it off and start planning how to complete your first item.
Can I just make a special note here. Stop waiting! You have so many amazing things left to do in your life. Your time is NOW.
No. 3: Testosterone
The feeling of power.
Testosterone is the hormone of power, strength and capability. For both men and women, testosterone can completely change the way you feel. Now, testosterone is a tricky one-too much and it can make you feel aggressive (and very horny). Too little, and you feel powerless, lethargic and limp (both physically and emotionally). Some crazy facts about testosterone:
- Men given testosterone lost belly fat.
- Stock traders get a testosterone spike on days when they make an above-average profit.
- When playing sports, a winner's testosterone levels increase-and fans' hormone levels also get a boost! In a small group of 21 men watching a Brazil vs. Italy World Cup match, the Brazil fans' testosterone levels increased after their team won, but the Italy fans' testosterone fell.
- Males have longer right pointer fingers than women. This has even been found in other five-fingered creatures, such as rats. Scientists have found that this is correlated to fetal exposure to testosterone. The higher your testosterone level before birth, the lower your pointer-finger-to-ring-finger ratio.
Basically, I want to know.
How long is your finger?
Sounds dirty, doesn't it? Now, now, get your mind out of the gutter. I'm talking about moods here! Here's a photo of my hand. For some reason, it feels weirdly intimate posting a picture of my hand. Oh well!
- Testosterone Boost: Here is the general rule of thumb (or shall I say... finger): Stand like a superhero, feel like a superhero. When you power pose for 2-minutes, it pumps testosterone, which makes you feel great.
No. 4: Oxytocin
The feeling of love.
Oxytocin is a little hormone nicknamed the 'cuddle hormone', because it makes us feel loved and connected. It plays a major role in childbirth and childcare-to help mothers and fathers feel connected (and therefore, responsible for their babies). But it also affects an incredible amount of behavioral tendencies. Specifically, researcher Inga Neumann, found that oxytocin changes "pro-social behaviors" and emotional responses for relaxation, trust between people and psychological stability.
Ding, ding, ding!
Oxytocin is crucial to understanding our moods. Oxytocin is primarily produced and affected by the people around us. Interestingly, one study found that new lovers have higher oxytocin levels than single people for the first six months of their relationship. Oxytocin is high because our mind and body is working together to make a connection. This is why other people can so greatly change our moods-either flipping us into a happy state or spreading toxicity to our mental state.
- Oxytocin Boost: The best way to tap into your oxytocin is to tap into your support system. The moment you are in a bad mood, think about the person who can boost your oxytocin. Specifically, who's the person who makes you laugh? Who's the best listener? Call in the team! Not only are moods contagious (we teach this in our Happiness Course), but they also can produce that warm and fuzzy feeling of belonging in you!
No. 5: Endorphins
The feeling of excitement.
Endorphins are released by our body naturally in response to pain and stress. Endorphins are crucial to quelling our anxiety and are our body's natural way of fighting the blues. The more endorphins we have coursing through us, the less we suffer from pain, the easier we are able to modulate our appetite and the better our immune system. Most importantly, with high endorphin levels, we have fewer negative effects of stress. If you are a runner or athlete, you might be familiar with endorphins because they are pumped during and after a workout-making us feel like we are on a high or euphoria.
Hate exercise? No worries! Certain foods, such as chocolate and chili peppers, also cause a boost in endorphins. The release of endorphins upon ingestion of chocolate might explain why many people associate this food and the craving for chocolate during times of stress.
- Endorphin Boost: Move it! Yes, you can eat chocolate and chili peppers, but exercise has many other positive effects. And you don't have to hit the gym-dancing to your favorite music, going on a walk or throwing the frisbee are all great ways to get your blood and endorphins pumping.
Here's the Deal: We can't prevent bad moods from happening, but we can tap into our natural response to stress and try to harness it. This post is the very tip of the iceberg. There are so many ways to change and modify your moods. But it is a good start! Next time you are in a funk or bad mood, try one of the following:
- Look through old pictures
- Create and update your bucket list
- Power pose for 2 minutes
- Call your favorite friend
- Get moving to your favorite tunes
Want to dig a little deeper into your happiness? Read on.
Bonus: Happy Triggers
Now that we understand what happens when you are unhappy, can we talk about what makes you happy? The science and psychology of happiness is fascinating!
We have been studying happiness for over 4 years in our lab, and now I want to share the results with you: