Know The Balance Between Your Happiness Chemicals

Quite often, the main difference between the military and business is the perspective towards “sacrifice.” In the military, medals are given to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of others around them. In business, bonuses are given to people who are willing to sacrifice others around them so they themselves benefit. I’m not even talking about giving our lives for one another, heck, in business, we are not even willing to give up credit.

For the greater good of the company, you might even be sacrificed, or “let go” from the organization simply because they cannot afford you and the many others around you.  You don’t really feel “safe” and have the “job security” you wanted; however, in any scenario, there will also be a “circle of safety” within the military comradery… you will trust the person on the left and right of you to watch your backs, and they know deeply that you would do the same thing for them.

We humans have four main chemicals or systems that make us “happy” or try to get us to do things in the interest of us. When we have the feeling of happiness, pride, joy, love or fulfillment for example, these are all chemically produced feelings. These chemicals are Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin.


Endorphins and Dopamine are what we call the “selfish” chemicals because we don’t need the help from others to fulfill them. Endorphins are the ones that give us the rush or high after a long run or a physical workout… you feel good while doing it, you feel great in the end and this chemical masks the pain associated with the activity. Similarly, Dopamine is the chemical that keeps us focused towards our own goals and the “feel good” feeling when we cross something off your to-do-list. It constantly reminds us that the objective makes us happy. However, these chemicals are all about me, me and me, they are all about yourself. The extreme cases are the addicts of alcohol, gambling or drugs- they do these for themselves and they are sacrificing their own resources and sometimes very well their relationship with those around them.

The feeling of true fulfilment, love, pride and trust comes from the latter two, Serotonin and Oxytocin. It is about community, togetherness, belonging, having each other’s backs. We must need the help from others in order for these chemicals to be released and felt. If we surround ourselves with people that believe what we believe, we feel safe and trust is formed.

Serotonin is responsible for pride and status. It is why we have public awards such as the Oscars or commencement ceremonies because it feels good to be recognized for your accomplishment. However, get this… yes, your own pride and status rises as you walk across stage and place your hand on that award/diploma but that same chemical will also be felt among those in the audience. Family, friends, people who supported you and watched your backs, your coaches, teachers, teammates will all have that same rush and surge of pride, joy and happiness. Without them, the feeling of serotonin would not exist. It would not be felt by you or others because this feeling is shared mutually between yourself and those that helped you achieve that feeling of pride and status, those that you would be thanking in your speeches upon receiving the award (I would not have done this without…). This is what serotonin is trying to do; it is trying to reinforce the relationship between parent and child, boss and employee, coach and player, etc. We work to make who we looked up to “proud” and we in turn our proud of our own achievements.

Equally to note is that Serotonin is the “leadership” chemical. It is responsible for people within your community or group working together. The “leader” of the group may enjoy all the perks and favours of being the leader. It goes all the way back to the Palaeolithic era where the “alpha male” gets first choice of mate and the best cut of meat. The rest of the village do not have any problem with that and even to this day, we are perfectly comfortable that our bosses make more money than us or have a larger office than we do. This chemical has been deeply engrained in us but it doesn’t become released that easily. There is a large cost of being the authority or on the top of the hierarchy; in order to allow people below you to love you and respect you, you need to know how it should be to be a leader. It is your responsibility to protect the group from outside danger… it is your responsibility to let your company feel safe and secure during times of crisis in the market. Otherwise, the group will become disoriented, disorganized and the everyone fend for themselves mentality arise. Bad system.

This goes back to the “selfish” chemicals since as a leader, you cannot have self-interest, and you must look after your sub-ordinates. You need to be willing to take risks and sacrifice yourself for the group. With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility – oh yes, that great quote of wisdom from Uncle Ben in Spiderman… well, being a leader has huge responsibilities. Being a leader means not working less, but working more. Great teams are those where the players win the cup for the coach, great companies do so well because they believe in the vision of the head, children always want to do good to make their parents happy and proud. It’s all about respect and the serotonin that flows simultaneously from top to bottom.

Image result for with great power comes great responsibility

Oxytocin may be the best one of all. It is the chemical of love, trust, friendship… the warm and fuzzy… the unicorns, butterflies, and rainbows. It’s the reason we spend time with the company of our friends although we don’t really do anything. Again, like Serotonin, that feeling of safeness and comfort are the ingredients of Oxytocin. It is released when we hug, when mothers give birth to their child, when we shake hands. Imagine when you are closing a deal with a partner, all the terms is agreed upon and both sides get everything they wanted. However, that exchange of oxytocin from the shaking of the hands was missing. In the end, I bet you would be going into the deal nervous… wouldn’t feel really comfortable.

Another way oxytocin is obtained is through acts of human generosity and expecting nothing in return. Money, however doesn’t really count. It is the time and energy you give that people put more value and premium on; you spend money, you make money, but when you give your time and energy, you will never get it back. Trust me, rather than giving money to charity, you would feel a lot better when you packed up lunch bags, physically went down to the less fortunate street of your town and feed, sit down and talk to the homeless there. It is not the money but the compassion, care, time that these people truly want. That great feeling is oxytocin released; you won’t get much, if any if it’s just money cause it’s just too easy. Sentiment is so important; it’s about sacrificing a little bit of your own time and energy for the better of the others around you.  Even more, it turns out that aside from the receiving end of the generosity, people simply “witnessing” the act will also get a shot of oxytocin because the human body is trying to get us to repeat behaviours in the best interest of making us feel great, happy and fulfilled.

Sure it is great to feel good simply from a long run or an intense workout and completing the list of errands to run for the day. I am not saying Endorphins and Dopamine are inherently bad. There just however, needs a proper balance with the other two. Having Serotonin and Oxytocin in our systems make us feel comfortable, relaxed, safe, connected, loved, trusted. Biologically, having these feelings increases our health, longevity, problem solving skills and creativity as being stressed and anxious sure will not do any help. Unfortunately, at times, more often than not, there are more “me” times and company leaders build the circle of trust within the C-suite only rather than the whole organization itself. The negatively that is laid upon this channels back to the home and family; children would think that this is what work is like, that it makes their parents short-tempered and stressed. Great leaders balance these hormones sensibly and it is crucial that parents and society in general understand the importance of the chemicals that bring us true happiness: fulfillment, love, pride and trust.


Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, A book by Simon Sinek



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