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Make 2019 A Year of Happiness

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Did you know that our greatest purpose as humans is to be happy? Happiness is truly our American Dream. We are all searching for more meaning in our lives to make us feel whole and complete. We wait all week for Friday, all year for summer and all life for happiness. We constantly compare ourselves to other people, what they have, and we don’t and try to buy our way to happiness by filling our lives with things and stuff that leaves us feeling even worse. Lotto ticket winners and celebrities are actually some of the most miserable people in this world, and it’s these people we strive to be. We go after the big house, the new car, the high-paying job, or follow a certain diet in hopes it will make us happy and skinny but unfortunately, happiness doesn’t work this way.

Bottom line is that happiness doesn’t come from a best-selling book, Netflix documentary, expensive things and it doesn’t live on a beautiful dessert island. No matter how hard we search for happiness, we truly will never find it.

With this being said, what if you learned that the happiness we are all seeking, may not be so hard to achieve after all?

Now in order to feel happy, the body has to produce serotonin, our feel- good neurotransmitter. What many people don’t understand is that 90% of serotonin is actually made in the gut through the foods we eat. These foods include those found in the center green circles of the target below. Also known as superfoods. Research is finding that our gut, is actually known as our second brain and plays a role in how we think, act and feel. This phenomenon is called the gut brain connection, and each is related to the other. Which means that we don’t find happiness, we eat and live our way to happiness. Happiness is an emotion and begins when we start feeling it.

On Target Living, a global health and performance company defines happiness as a positive life experience. They believe that the better you feel, the better your life will be, and that health and happiness are directly related.

Serotonin 101

Serotonin is a monoamine neurotransmitter that increases feelings of happiness and contentment. Serotonin is also responsible for efficiency of food digestion and causes peristalsis (rhythmic contractions) to occur, aiding in digestion. Serotonin is essential for a healthy gut and a healthy gut is essential for a strong immune system. Basically, all autoimmune issues, allergies, and disease stem from inflammation and an unhealthy gut.

Serotonin is not only responsible for regulating mood, but also appetite and sleep.  Since serotonin is a precursor for melatonin, serotonin deficiencies can lead to sleep disorders and insomnia. Because melatonin helps the body to fall and stay asleep, it plays a big role in getting the body into the last stage of sleep called rapid eye movement or REM. It’s during REM where the brain heals itself and washes away a protein molecule that can lead to poor brain health and Alzheimer’s. Getting more REM sleep contributes to better mood and overall happiness. A good night’s sleep can also produce a hormone called leptin, which makes us feel more satisfied and less likely to overeat. When the body doesn’t get enough sleep, it produces a hormone called ghrelin that makes us crave high-fat, high-carb foods and make it difficult to lose weight and live our happiest self.

While most people are treating their happiness issues in the brain, with antidepressants like serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), boosting serotonin in the gut may play the biggest role in long-term happiness. If you have ever taken an anti-depressant, you may know that the body eventually builds up a resistance to SSRI medication. In psychiatric care, we are finding that instead of treating depression with an SSRI medication, physicians could just as easily prescribe a specific probiotic supplement that would benefit not only gut health, but also brain health.

Why Do We Have Poor Gut Health?

Today, we live in a world full of gut health and digestive problems. The rates of inflammatory and autoimmune associated issues have continued to rise year after year. Did you know Americans make 104 million visits to the doctor every year due to poor digestion? Inflammatory bowel disorders, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, cost $1.7 billion every year, and doctors write millions of prescriptions to combat the related symptoms.

We struggle with food intolerances and are basically allergic to everything. Kids can’t even bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school anymore and gluten-free is everywhere we turn. Some of these newly popular issues were not even on the radar screen hundreds of years ago. So, what has changed and what can we do about it?

All illness comes from a weakened immune system which ideally stems from poor gut health also known as a leaky gut. The water we drink, medications we take, antibiotics and hormones in our foods, the foods we eat all affect the lining of our gut. A leaky gut happens when the lining of gut breaks down leading to food participles in the blood which the body misinterprets as foreign invaders leading to an inflammatory response which exhibits as allergies, autoimmune conditions, food sensitivities.

While serotonin is very important for making us feel happy, dopamine may be just as important and makes us feel pleasure. Dopamine is stimulated in the gut through foods that bring us pleasure. Dopamine is also released in the brain during pleasurable situations. This could be stimulation from technology, drugs, love or eating certain foods that bring us pleasure. In today’s modern world, most of us are on dopamine overload and serotonin depletion. We are always reaching for that quick fix to provide us pleasure weather it is a quick swipe on the phone or a sweet treat. The more you eat foods that give you a quick dopamine fix like sweets, carb-rich snacks, coffee and sugary beverages, the more you reach for these foods. However, these foods will not help to produce serotonin in the gut needed for healthy digestion and long-term happiness. When you start eating foods that produce serotonin in the gut, the more satisfied you will feel leading to less food cravings.

Ideally, it’s important to have the right balance of serotonin and dopamine learning how to enjoy foods that provide the most nutrients for your brain, gut and mood. The key is to eat food that is healthy and delicious.

You can think of dopamine as providing short-term pleasure while serotonin provides long-term contentment. Ideally, we need both but in the right amounts.

The Other 10% of Serotonin

Although majority of serotonin is made in the gut through the foods that we eat, the other percentage is made in the brain through social interactions and the things that truly make us happy.  This is one of the reasons that dieting, and food restrictions will never make us happy long term. True happiness blends eating for purpose and eating for pleasure to bring you a positive life experience. Ideally, it’s important to eat healthy foods and cook meals at home majority of the time while planning ahead for special occasions and the things that make you happy.

What if you woke up one morning with a sense of ease or well-being? Would you recognize this as happiness?