Know Your Body: Serotonin

Not sure what it is that makes you smile? Don’t worry, be happy—we did the research for you!

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Getting Ton’ed Up
Serotonin—otherwise known as 5-hydroxytryptamine—is known as “the happy chemical”. It’s made in the brain and is an important neurotransmitter (although some consider it a hormone) that relays signals between nerve cells, regulating their intensity. The happier you are—think ace Christmas present from favourite relative here—the more serotonin you’re producing. It plays a key role in balancing our mood and affecting our social behaviours, but it’s also believed to play lesser roles in appetite, digestion, memory, sexual desire and other physical functions. It also helps your body regulate its sleep-wake cycles and your internal clock. If you thought you were busy this Christmas, you’ll never be as busy as your serotonin. So there.

Give As Good As You Get
We’re hard-wired to enjoy the act of giving because, just like receiving a thoughtful gift, giving one releases a bunch of feelgood chemicals—including serotonin—into our brain that generate more-ish feelings of euphoria, similar to the feelings we get when we complete a rigorous workout, or begin falling in love with someone. As well as helping us strengthen our connection with another person, scientists believe that giving a gift—no matter what your income level—makes us feel happier than receiving one.

The Philosophy of Giving
Science suggests that generosity is part of the reason the human species continues to grow and thrive. Charles Darwin said, “Communities, which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best”; the Dalai Lama noted in the principles of Buddhism that one’s own happiness is dependent on the happiness of others; and Mahatma Gandhi claimed, “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” So yeah, point one: scientifically and socially, giving feels good. And you can thank serotonin for that!