Raising the Supply of Dopamine and Serotonin
Many years ago as I walked into my place of employment, I was greeted by a client with such genuine kindness that it struck me. She seemed sincerely happy to see me. (Me?!) I don’t recall what state I was in when I arrived, but it’s entirely possible that I had been experiencing my all-too-common insecurity, self-doubt, or self-criticism, which made her welcome feel like aloe to a sun-burned soul, a much-needed relief– and sense of acceptance. Or perhaps I was feeling wonderful that day, and I was simply uplifted by such genuine kindness. Either way, the moment really stuck with me. I didn’t expect such a small and simple act of kindness to feel so profound. This seemingly insignificant instance came paired with a whispered message: look how fun it is to be boost for other people!
As I think back at different points in my life, this instance may not have been terribly unique (it was simply a friendly greeting, and certainly not the first), however, this was the instance that awoke my awareness to the power of kindness, and perhaps more importantly, awoke me to my own power to be a spreader of sunshine to others.
Deepak Chopra, world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, teaches that of all the voluntary choices we can make to increase our level of happiness, the only ones that bring lasting happiness and fulfillment are the choices to offer attention, affection, appreciation, and acceptance to others. He calls these “the four A’s”. The other person gets a boost of dopamine, and we get a serotonin hit at the same time. It’s a win-win! I believe there isn’t a single soul who doesn’t benefit from being offered attention, appreciation, affection, and acceptance.
Here are three simple practices that take almost no time yet create exponential rewards. These practices help create deeply satisfying experiences every day, as we increase the frequency with which we offer others attention, affection, appreciation, or acceptance:
- Use a mantra or a saying to re-center, clear away unhelpful vibes, and focus on the joyful creation of your unique version of kindness. A favorite comes from Kim Duncan: “Love radiates and flows freely from my soul.”
Saying this mantra repeatedly while driving or in between activities helps me to arrive at the next event feeling clear, calm, aware, and with a greater ability to effortlessly offer genuine kindness.
If this mantra doesn’t feel true, try either turning it into a question: “Why does love radiate and flow freely from my soul?” or choosing a different phrase, such as “Why am I so kind and compassionate to everyone I meet?” Your mind will go to work finding evidence for this.
- View yourself as you would a dear friend or loved one. Just like every other human, you deserve your love and kindness.
Taking the perspective of how you would treat the person who is you (if you weren’t you) opens space for increased compassion and understanding toward yourself. When we view ourselves with kindness, it naturally spills into other relationships.
“If you are a taskmaster with yourself, others will feel your whip. If you are critical with yourself, others will feel your high expectations of themselves as well. If you are light-hearted and forgiving with yourself, others will feel the ease and joy of being with you. If you find laughter and delight in yourself, others will be healed in your presence” (Deborah Adele, The Yamas and Niyamas, pp. 29-30).
- Notice your breath or try simple breathwork (below) to bring yourself into the present moment.
Kindness is not just a nice idea, it’s an experience that requires us to be there, embodied in the moment. The quickest and easiest way to connect to the present moment is through our breath.
Put your palm on your heart or solar plexus, if you’re able, because feeling your own breath regulate helps calm the mind and brings your attention to the present moment. Or, try “box breathing:” inhale for four counts, hold four counts, exhale four counts, and hold again for four counts. Tuning into our breathing increases awareness, which enables us to genuinely experience giving and receiving kindness.
Since that day of the greeting many years ago, I have found myself more intentionally offering genuine kindness in my greetings as a way to radiate love and ultimately offer attention, appreciation, affection, and acceptance.
The best part is that I get to feel the vibe of kindness when I offer it, because offering kindness is a gift to both the giver and receiver simultaneously. (In fact, try greeting a friend with the excitement of a puppy, and notice the boost you will both experience!)
May we all add extra bits of kindness each day, boosting all levels of dopamine and serotonin in this grand world.