by Pete Pfeffer
During the holidays, feelings of nostalgia and gratitude flourish. There is a legitimate origin for these feelings. The human species developed to its present state by cooperation. Biochemical markers show up when we are good to each other. They enhance the spirit of cooperation and feelings of well-being…you know, holiday cheer!
There are four principal brain chemicals that affect behavior and ability to cooperate. They reward us by making us feel good when we behave in a certain way. They are endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. The first two are self-serving because they reward the individual directly. They make us feel good when we accomplish things, mainly for ourselves. The second two are cooperation chemicals because they are released and reinforced when we do good things with and for others.
Endorphins mask physical pain. They allow you to feel good when you work out…you don’t hurt until later. Endorphins also give that extra push that helps accomplish all those holiday tasks.
Dopamine is closely linked to endorphins. It is released when we find something or accomplish a goal. This addictive reward chemical is linked to achievement. It makes us feel really good. It is released often and in small doses so it shapes behavior. It is the reward for getting closer to the goal and completing a task. But be careful – it is also released by shopping, Google and eBay searches, nicotine, alcohol, gambling and cell phones.
Serotonin is associated with pride, self-confidence or security. When a student wins an event, she feels glad. Her parents also have a serotonin release from her success. This neurochemical reinforces the relationship between protector/protected, parent/child, boss/employee and group members with a common goal. We feel rewarded when the group says I like you. But be careful, likes on Facebook or Instagram, buying something or a compliment is temporary. Parenting always feels good and the support of loved ones gives a longer serotonin response than 50 Facebook “likes.”
Oxytocin is the love and trust, warm and fuzzy chemical released by human contact. Its purpose is to get us to look after each other. Acts of generosity without expectation of return release oxytocin, but not so much with money. It’s the gift of time and service our neurology deems valuable.
So the smiles you see this holiday season are real, the greetings genuine. Feelings of gratitude and wishes for peace and good will are wired into our DNA. So join in….be of good cheer!
Peter Pfeffer is a doctor of chiropractic with HealthSource Chiropractic and Progressive Rehab in Alexandria.