#17: Happy Brain Habits with Loretta Breuning, PhD

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Loretta Breuning, PhD is the author of Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, & Endorphin Levels. This is a fantastic book, and I wish I could remember how I came across it. I am honored to have Dr. Breuning on the show today, as we talk about easy changes that everyone can make to feel happier.

In this episode of the Clean Eating for Women podcast, we talk about:

  • How Dr. Breuning started learning about animal neurochemistry and what we share with animals
  • How happy brain chemicals turn on for specific reasons and then turn off
  • The four happy brain chemicals dopamine, oxytocin, endorphin, and serotonin

Some Highlights of This Episode on happy Brain Habits with Loretta Breuning, PhD:

  1. Dr. Breuning was a college professor for 25 years. She took an early retirement and started a new life. Her experience of being a parent and her childhood didn't fit what was in textbooks. At the time, evolutionary psychology was growing. She started reading about how neurochemistry works in animals and what we share with animals. The connections she saw were so obvious. [01:37]
  2. Nature is all good is what is being reported. Animals are not happy all the time. The happy chemicals are turned on to promote a specific survival behavior. Then they turn off. The idea that people can do nothing and always be happy is a misconception. [03:50]
  3. Dopamine is chemically the same as cocaine. It's the reward chemical. It makes you feel good and releases the energy to go towards your reward. It motivates and connects neurons that connect the next time you have a reward experience. [08:38]
  4. Oxytocin is the warm and cuddly chemical. The love or cuddle hormone. This is triggered by trust and touch. When oxytocin is not stimulated it is a warning signal to be aware. We are looking for opportunities that are similar to our previous experiences of trust. In the state of nature, anyone close enough to touch you is close enough to kill you. The drug is sex addiction and ecstasy. [10:06]
  5. Endorphin is complicated. It's the runner's high. It's the first one that was discovered and it is the same as opioids. Endorphins evolve to mask pain. Such as when a gazelle is attacked by a lion. Endorphins mask pain for 15 minutes with a feeling humans perceive as euphoria. Exercise addiction is a popular way to stimulate endorphin, but it is not healthy to exercise to the required point of inflicting pain. [13:17]
  6. Serotonin is similar to antidepressants. The simple word for serotonin is pride or social dominance. Animals are constantly stealing food and mating opportunities. The mammal brain evolved to constantly compare with others and seek dominance when in that position. It's how your brain interprets your immediate environment in this minute. [16:05]
  7. How we are expected to feel humble and dominant all the time. Our serotonin pathways build from things that have built our serotonin levels in the past. We compare ourselves to everyone and then wonder why we don't have that. That thought process will trigger a down feeling. Our serotonin is also triggered by the people around us. [18:58]
  8. How our brains have evolved to protect us. During Little House on the Prairie times it was dangerous to go outside in the winter. Staying in the house was safe. Just staying in the house will make it natural for your brain to have anxiety. Fill your life with things you like. If the only things you like are bad for you, you need to fill your life with new likes gradually. [26:19]
  9. Stimulating the happy chemicals. Dopamine is stimulated by reaching a goal and novelty. Oxytocin and thinking thoughts that stimulate social trust. Take small steps towards trust. Human groups rely on common enemies to bond. [27:46]

Links mentioned in this episode (some affiliate links included):

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