From Entrepreneur Network
Writer, Content Strategist, TheUtopianLife.com
August 4, 2016 This story originally appeared on Entrepreneur Network Happy people get more work done. You might not have a money tree, but you can have the next best thing: a happiness tree. Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins are the quartet responsible for your motivation, productivity and happiness. Many situations can trigger these neurotransmitters, but instead of being in the passenger seat, there are ways you can intentionally cause them to flow:
1. Dopamine.Dopamine motivates you to take action toward your goals and gives you a surge of reinforcing pleasure when achieving them. Procrastination, self-doubt and lack of enthusiasm are linked with low levels of dopamine. Studies on rats showed those with low levels of dopamine always opted for an easier option and less reward; those with higher levels of dopamine exerted the effort needed to receive double the amount of food.
Break down big goals into little pieces. Rather than allowing your brain to celebrate only when you’ve hit the big finish line, you can create a series of little finish lines for frequent dopamine release. It’s crucial to actually celebrate. Buy a bottle of wine or head to your favorite restaurant whenever you meet a small goal. And avoid the dopamine hangover, when you slump after a massive high.
Create new goals before achieving your current one. That ensures a consistent pattern for experiencing dopamine. As an employer and leader, recognize the accomplishments of your team. Sending your team an encouraging email or giving a small bonus is a “dopamine hit” that will increase future motivation and productivity.
2. Serotonin.Serotonin flows when you feel significant or important. Loneliness and depression are present when serotonin is absent. Unhealthy attention-seeking behaviors are a cry for what serotonin provides. Princeton neuroscientist Barry Jacobs explains that most antidepressants focus on the production of serotonin.
Reflecting on a past achievement allows your brain to relive the experience. Your brain has trouble telling the difference between what is real and what is imagined, so it produces serotonin in both cases. Gratitude practices are popular for this reason. They are reminders -- mental pictures -- of all of the good things you’ve experienced. If you need a serotonin boost during a stressful day, take a few moments to reflect on your past achievements and victories. As a leader, you can boost your company's morale by reflecting on past achievements during team meetings.
Another way to boost your serotonin levels is to have lunch or coffee outside and expose yourself to the sun for 20 minutes. Your skin absorbs ultraviolet rays, which promotes Vitamin D and serotonin production. Although too much ultraviolet light isn’t good, some daily exposure is healthy for boosting your serotonin levels.
3. Oxytocin.The release of oxytocin creates trust and strengthens relationships. It’s released by men and women during intimacy and orgasm and by mothers during childbirth and breastfeeding. It's often referred to as “the cuddle hormone.” A simple way to keep oxytocin flowing is to give someone a hug. Of course, in a professional setting, you need to be wise and discern when this would be appropriate.
Dr. Paul Zak explains that interpersonal touch not only raises oxytocin, but also reduces cardiovascular stress and improves the immune system. Rather than just a handshake, go in for the hug. Dr. Zak recommends eight hugs each day.
Giving someone a gift will also cause their oxytocin levels to rise. You can strengthen work and personal relationships through a simple birthday or anniversary gift.
4. Endorphins.Endorphins are released in response to pain and stress, and they help to alleviate anxiety. The surging “second wind” and euphoric “runner's high” when running are a result of endorphins. Similar to morphine, endorphins act as an analgesic and sedative, diminishing your perception of pain.
Along with exercise, laughter is one of the easiest ways to induce endorphin release. Even the anticipation and expectation of laugher, e.g. attending a comedy show, increases levels of endorphins. Taking your sense of humor to work, forwarding that funny email and finding several things to laugh at during the day are great ways to keep your endorphins flowing.
Aromatherapy, particularly the scent of vanilla and lavender, has been linked with the production of endorphins. Studies have shown that dark chocolate and spicy foods will also cause your brain to release endorphins. Keep some scented oils and dark chocolate at your desk for a quick endorphin boost.