The Chemistry of Happiness

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Do you know what makes you happy? Sure, a cute puppy or a kiss from a loved one can put a smile on your face, but do you know what takes place in the brain to induce feelings of happiness? In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen explain how the structure and function of your brain can cause your neurons to fire in a way that feels good.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here, we teach you how to win the fight for your brain, to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to happiness week. We are gonna blow your mind, in a happy way. It's happiness week every week, because I get to sit next to you. And I get to wake up and hang out with my best friend.
Tana Amen: We have a good life.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So, a big part of happiness, are you taking care the relationships that you have? So, let's start off with a review from the website. I am so grateful for these. This is from Marilyn. "I am one of the thousands or more who appreciate your podcast." Thank you for saying that.
Tana Amen: Oh, so sweet.
Dr. Daniel Amen: "Thank you for sharing so openly about your health challenges and anxiety issues. It does give hope and incentive to make healthy choices. I deal with anxiety, too. Also, I think you and Dr. Amen are modeling a beautiful and healthy relationship. You both have your different ways of thinking and feeling," ... Oh, they're so different ... "Yet, there is so much love. Just wanted to thank you. You're helping me so much. When there are too many ants in my head, I listen to Dr. Amen to put a sane voice in my head." You know, I started my goal to be the little voice that helps you do the right thing.
Tana Amen: Sane? I'm not sure sane is the word, but positive.
Dr. Daniel Amen: No, I took the MMPI.
Tana Amen: Oh, dear Lord.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It said I was completely normal.
Tana Amen: Do you know what it said about me?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Tell me.
Tana Amen: Brutally honest.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Oh, well, that's certainly true.
Tana Amen: I'm paraphrasing.
Dr. Daniel Amen: "I also had a similar Catholic upbringing, so can really relate. Thank you." Marilyn, thank you so much.
Tana Amen: That was great.
Dr. Daniel Amen: We are grateful to everyone who listens. And so, when we think about happiness, there are a number of components that go to that. So, let's talk about the brain.
Tana Amen: Yeah, I want to talk about this.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Hang on.
Tana Amen: The first thing I want to know is, what is it?
Dr. Daniel Amen: So, let's talk about the brain.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And then let's talk about the mind. And let's talk about relationships.
Tana Amen: Right. Well, let's start with the science.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The science of happiness.
Tana Amen: What is happiness?
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's different, I hear, than joy. It's that sense of positive contentment.
Tana Amen: So, happiness is more of what, a daily feeling compared to joy, which is what, more-
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's like that burst of intensity. Happiness is positive contentment. You feel positive, but also content. So, joy is like that jolt of dopamine that we've talked about. And so, what gives you that sense of positive contentment?
Tana Amen: So, I have all kinds of questions and all kinds of things going on in my head. I want to know, part of it, I want to know the science. What's the chemistry of happiness? But I also want to know them, what is the thought process of happiness, right? So, I want to talk about both of those.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So, we're gonna talk about brain first. That's the chemistry.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So, are your neurons firing-
Tana Amen: Firing.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... in a healthy way. And so, if you had to narrow it down, your mood is often associated with your deep limbic brain. And that includes your amygdala, your hippocampus, your thalamus, so, they're structures deep in your brain. And when they work too hard, it's often associated with depression. And keeping them sort of soothed and calm, yet working hard enough, is really-
Tana Amen: So, maybe meditation can help with that.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So, meditation actually activates your frontal lobes and can calm down your limbic, or emotional, brain.
Tana Amen: Right. So that's why sometimes when I meditate, I actually feel this joy feeling.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But there's some chemistry involved.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And you have to have enough of the neurotransmitters. So, it's serotonin, and dopamine, and-
Tana Amen: And those have to be balanced, right?
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... norepinephrine, and GABA. And they have to be balanced, in order for you to feel right.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Which means you need to get the right food. And nutrients can be helpful, as well.
Tana Amen: We write about that a lot in Brain Warrior's Way. We talk about nutrients.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And I wrote about it a lot in Feel Better Fast and Make It Last. And in Feel Better Fast, I talk about bright minds. So, if you want to keep your brain healthy, or rescue it if it's headed to the dark place, you have to prevent or treat the 11 major risk factors that steal your mind. And we are not going to go over all of them, but for example, B is for blood flow. Low blood flow, especially to the left front side of your brain, is associated with depression in right-handed people. And so, I always tell people if you're gonna fall out of a second-story window, fall on your right side. Because the right side tends to be the more anxious, fearful, mournful side. And damaging the right side actually goes along with being silly.
Tana Amen: How funny.
Dr. Daniel Amen: There's actually a term for it.
Tana Amen: Is that why my mom started laughing? She hasn't stopped laughing ever since she had her head.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So, there's a term for it. It's called Witzelsucht, for people who had right frontal lobe tumors. And it means addicted to bad jokes.
Tana Amen: Oh, how funny.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So, some of the comedians probably were dropped on their heads-
Tana Amen: That's so funny.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... if they were a good comedian, I suppose.
Tana Amen: So, we've talked about neurotransmitters.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Blood flow.
Tana Amen: Blood flow.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So, anything that lowers blood flow will actually lower your happiness.
Tana Amen: And I assume PTSD can trigger that part of the limbic brain?
Dr. Daniel Amen: PTSD can trigger off the limbic brain to work too hard.
Tana Amen: Okay. What about hormones?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well-
Tana Amen: Because, just look at a woman in menopause. Nothing makes her happy.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Are you speaking from personal experience?
Tana Amen: Well, fortunately, not quite yet. But I think I'm headed that way.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So, inflammation's another major cause of unhappiness. And people have no idea about that. And 97% of the population is low in omega-3 fatty acids, one of the major causes of high inflammation, along with gut health problems. So, if your gut's not right-
Tana Amen: Yeah, that's for sure.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... your brain's not-
Tana Amen: For sure.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... right, and so you're not-
Tana Amen: Because, you won't even produce enough serotonin.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... happy.
Tana Amen: Right. You won't produce enough serotonin.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, the gut produces serotonin for your body. It produces 90% of it. But it doesn't do it for your brain. So, it's a little bit of a misnomer. But you need the building blocks. But when your body's inflamed because you have leaky gut, which we've talked about a number of times, you're not going to be happy.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And when you're in pain, you're not going to be happy., 30% of happiness is associated with G. Genetics. And so, I tend to have a happy mom. And I tend to have a grouchy, but reasonably happy dad. And so, I have never suffered with depression. On your dad's side, there is serious depression. And so, we have a tendency. But you can magnify it by how you live and what you do. H is head trauma. You hurt the left front side of your head, that's why you should never let children hit soccer balls with their head, or engage in risks that are high-concussion activities. It's a major cause of depression, anxiety attacks, suicide, unhappiness. Toxins, the toxins people put on their bodies. So, there are brain reasons-
Tana Amen: But on top of that, as somebody who's been through some of these challenges, things like thyroid really affect it. This is another hormone.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, the neurohormone section. That's the N in Bright Minds. When your thyroid's not right, you're not happy.
Tana Amen: Well, and even things as simple as ferritin. If your iron is low, or your ferritin, you're gonna be exhausted. It's really hard to function normally and have passion if you're exhausted all the time, right? So, some simple nutrient things you can have checked.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And we always say, "Can't change what you don't measure."
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And ferritin is actually very important.
Tana Amen: Vitamin D, as well. All of those things will affect your-
Dr. Daniel Amen: You know, there's actually a brand-
Tana Amen: So, we talk about it from the standpoint of affecting weight, and your health, and your overall brain activity, memory. But we haven't really talked about it as far as affecting happiness. It affects happiness.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Positive contentment.
Tana Amen: Right. Because it will make you exhausted and tired.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And diabetes is also associated with unhappiness. Having hypoglycemia, so, if you're someone who gets hangry ... Remember Chloe when she was little? So, she'd fall asleep often, when we were in the car.
Tana Amen: And she'd sleep for a long time.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And when we would wake her up-
Tana Amen: Oh, dear Lord.
Dr. Daniel Amen: What was it like?
Tana Amen: Oh, dear Lord. It was terrible. It was terrible. And we couldn't figure it out at first, but then we started figuring it out because as soon as she would eat something, she'd be happy again. That's how we figured it out. So, she was completely unreasonable.
Dr. Daniel Amen: What would she say right when you'd wake her up? "Why are you waking me-"
Tana Amen: "Why are you waking me up?" Yeah, always. "Why are you waking me up?" But she'd scream it.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, it was not pleasant.
Tana Amen: No.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Do you know anybody that's hangry, in your life? I often do a two-hour glucose tolerance test. So, I measure, like I said, one of my celebrity kids kept getting arrested. Hasn't been arrested since. And his blood sugar dropped really low. When your blood sugar drops low, not only are you ... have brain fog-
Tana Amen: You make bad decisions.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... you're anxious. You make bad decisions. And you're mad, and you're not happy.
Tana Amen: Right. So, those are a few things-
Dr. Daniel Amen: And sleep-
Tana Amen: Oh, dear, yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... is so important.
Tana Amen: I am one of those people, if I miss a half, if I get woken up a half an hour early, it's not even just the happiness, I'm just off all day. Am I not? I'm just wonky.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, no, I don't roll over in the morning and wake you up.
Tana Amen: No, no, no, no, no, no. I'm just-
Dr. Daniel Amen: I don't, I don't. Because-
Tana Amen: It's the difference between-
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... I will not be happy.
Tana Amen: No. It's the difference between being really happy, and having energy, and being content, or being just all day, just being off. And it's only a half an hour, if I get woken up a half an hour early. It's just the weirdest thing.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I know, but it's this conflict in my head. "She's so cute. Don't you want to get a kiss?"
Tana Amen: There shouldn't be a conflict, because you know.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And now there's no conflict-
Tana Amen: There's no conflict.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... because there's more pain than there is gain. I always say to my patients, "Do you want short-term pain or long-term pain?"
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And if I wake you up in the morning, it's long-term pain.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So I don't. When we come back, we're gonna talk about the habits of a happy life. Thank you for listening to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. Go to iTunes and leave a review, and you'll automatically be entered into a drawing to get a free signed copy of The Brain Warrior's Way and The Brain Warrior's Way cookbook we give away every month.