The DOCS Happiness Model says that most happiness and unhappiness (depression, anxiety, etc.) in the world can be largely understood and optimized by understanding how four body chemicals work. DOCS stands for Dopamine, Oxytocin, Cortisol and Serotonin.
Dopamine – the short-term reward chemical that we often try to maximize because subconsciously we think it will increase our happiness, but attempting to maximize it actually lowers long-term happiness. Examples: Sugar, Social Media, Drugs/Alcohol, Materialism
Oxytocin – the long-term happiness chemical if released in safe relationships. Examples: hugs, talking face-to-face, spending time with friends/family.
Cortisol – the long-term unhappiness chemical if released because the person is nervous that something might occur that will cause a flood of negative emotions. Example: A child nervous that a parent will say something sarcastic about them.
Serotonin – People need a minimum amount of this “Accomplishment” chemical but shouldn’t allow it to distract from Oxytocin. Deficiency Example: Retiree gets depressed when he/she stops working and “just enjoys life”. Distraction Example: Workaholic who ignores family/friends.
Why does it often backfire if we try to make ourselves happy? It’s because we don’t understand the key chemicals in our body that contribute to short-term and long-term happiness. Most people are not aware of these important chemicals and when they try to increase happiness it backfires and lowers happiness. However, research shows that learning about these and optimizing them can significantly improve long-term well-being.
First, dopamine is the chemical that most people are subconsciously trying to maximize which can actually sabotage our long-term happiness. You get that dopamine hit when you see something novel like a social media post or when you do something pleasurable like eating your favorite food. It is a short-term reward system designed to give us a little boost of pleasure when we accomplish something. We get a dopamine hit after taking a shower, feeding the kids or finishing a task at work.
Dopamine is a short term happiness chemical not a long-term one. Attempting to always maximize dopamine actually results in lower long-term happiness. Dopamine is designed to always go away quickly no matter what causes that dopamine to increase. Even with a new dream house, you will always return to that baseline level. Your favorite food might result in increased dopamine levels for ten minutes. A new car might increase happiness a few minutes a day over a month or two. Even a new house only increases happiness a few minutes a day for a few months. For ninety-nine percent of purchases, any effect on happiness lasts less than a few hours yet people envy those who have nicer things and subconsciously assumed they would be happier if they had those things.
What chemicals should we be focusing on? What other chemicals do we need to be aware of? In our next videos, we’ll talk about oxytocin and cortisol.
(Might want to watch Cortisol video first)
What body chemical most increases long-term well-being? We previously learned that maximizing dopamine by having nicer things or entertaining ourselves does not lead to long-term happiness. We also learned that we should try to reduce high cortisol on ourselves and our loved ones so what brain chemicals should you focus on increasing? The answer is oxytocin.
Some people remember oxytocin by thinking of it as oxygen. It’s really that important. Oxytocin is the brain chemical that has the biggest impact on long-term well-being when increased in safe relationships. Increasing oxytocin is like eating healthy or exercising but for our mental health.
Oxytocin is a bonding chemical. The best way to increase oxytocin is through the science of building deep bonds with loved ones. We may think we know how to do this but we’re usually missing some key concepts. You might think that deep bonds don’t seem to bring much immediate pleasure but remember that oxytocin is a long term well-being chemical not a short-term one. You can’t see the effects immediately but you will certainly see them over time.
Why is oxytocin so important to understand? You first have to go back to a time when our early ancestors lived in tribes. Those who obsessed about being an important member of the tribe were more likely to survive and pass on their genes. The others, who didn’t care about tribe membership, were more likely to starve or die fighting alone and not pass on those genes. The genes that were passed on were those that care deeply about tribe membership. As a result, we became a species that is hardwired to be unhappy if we aren’t deeply connected with at least a few others.
Just like it’s never too late to start eating healthy or to start exercising, it’s never too late to start giving our loved ones more oxytocin and increasing their long-term well-being and ours.
This app (references “The Happy Child” app) will teach us the top way science is found to build deep bonds with our children and our partners which will significantly boost oxytocin levels the app does more than just provide information the content is specific to each child’s it gives customized videos fun activities and simple reminders.
Here is another good video on how you can increase Oxytocin at home:
Serotonin (no video yet)
Serotonin is the “Accomplishment” chemical. We need a certain amount of it to be happy. This means that we need some regular accomplishments. They can be simple things like cleaning the kitchen or making lunch for the kids. People think that happiness is “sitting on the beach” or “being retired and doing anything”, but that is incorrect. It doesn’t appear that you can be “happy” if you aren’t helping or achieving in some way.
However, like dopamine, it is possible to overly focus on serotonin and deprive ourselves of oxytocin. A good example is someone overly focused on their career. They love the “serotonin” hit of work accomplishment so much that they skip connection moments with family and friends (oxytocin).