Love & Bonding Boosts Oxytocin for Happiness

In previous posts on Dopamine and Serotonin, it has been pointed out that each person experiences happiness through positive emotional states brought about by a mix of brain chemicals.  Each chemical has an important part to play in happiness.  A major well-being booster of happiness is oxytocin.

Oxytocin has been called ‘the ‘love drug’ by some. An example would be Gary Vey’s blog Understanding LOVE and Oxytocin.  “Bonding provides comfort, safety, security, less anxiety and less fear through the release of oxytocin which inhibits brain centers that usually produce the opposite feelings. Bonding is the behavior that the neural network is hardwired to reward. Bonding also appears to promote health and prolong life.”

One great source of insight on oxytocin is Self-soothing behaviors with particular reference to oxytocin release induced by non-noxious sensory stimulation from Frontiers In Psychology.  “Oxytocin is released in response to activation of sensory nerves during labor, breastfeeding and sexual activity. In addition oxytocin is released in response to low intensity stimulation of the skin, e.g., in response to touch, stroking, warm temperature, etc.” The study goes on to say that “Oxytocin is released in response to pleasant mental experiences. Such a release of oxytocin may, e.g., be induced by seeing, hearing, smelling, or thinking of well known and loved persons…” and so having deep and trusting relations at work where you have bonded with your colleagues is very important.  Another interesting item from this study is the effect of owing and petting dogs which provide for a nice boost of oxytocin…I wonder if it works for cats too?

Effects of oxytocin administration on spirituality and emotional responses to meditation comes from one of my heros, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson.  Dr. Fredrickson and her colleagues published a nice study in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.  This new 2016 research shows “…the first experimental evidence that spirituality, endorsed by millions worldwide, appears to be supported by OT(Oxytocin)” and “…It also boosted participants’ experience of specific positive emotions during meditation, at both explicit and implicit levels.” Yet more research about how great meditation and connectedness are so important.

Oxytocin is awesome stuff for sure.  As Happywork is about workplace happiness, it is worth asking how this applies to a work setting? Well, some key takeaways are:

  1. Create trust and bonding at work through items like brainstorms where everyone is encouraged to speak, all ideas are welcome and no one interrupts to create an open and supportive environment.
  2. Take the time to get to know who you work with on an ever-increasing deeper level.  The time will create opportunities to open up and trust the relationship.
  3. Consider a dog-friendly work space like we have at Avvo!
  4. Meditate, meditate, meditate…it has so many great benefits.  I love to start my day off with some meditation in a park on my walk to work as well as a mid-afternoon refresher.

Is the taboo of love in the workplace dead?

If your workplace is like many others, the mention of love between co-workers is grounds to go and get HR. Having spent almost 20 years in HR leadership, this would often mean coming to see me. Normally this was due to corporate policies regarding romance in the workplace and an opportunity to make a bit of a joke. None of these instances ever amounted to anything.

Having said this, I find it quite common for co-workers to get a bit uncomfortable when talking openly about love at work. This is an absolute shame because as a workplace happiness consultant, I am acutely aware of how powerful positive emotions can be on the dynamic of successful teams.

So, maybe there is a better way to frame up what love is?

Well, one of my favorite thought leaders in the field of positive psychology, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, has done just that in her talk: ‘Love – a new lens on the science of thriving’

Dr. Fredrickson puts forward some great science that stretches the boundaries of how love is viewed. She defines “micro-moments of love” where we have positive emotions, maintain good eye contact, engage in dialogue, and then…wait for it…our brain’s sync!

Brain scan images of two people visiting together reveal a perfect match “There is one pattern being experienced across two brains.” This is fascinating enough as it is, but it gets even better. Those who brain-sync more thrive more by benefiting from things like mutual oxytocin release and improved heart regulation and function.

I have been a part of sessions at Happywork where ‘micro-moments love’ produced a real breakthrough. This is one of the most energizing and positive work environments I have been a part of and it motivates me to create them again and again. Dr. Fredrickson points out how these brain sync moments are so critical for our survival.

I wonder if the world is ready for ‘micro moments of love’ or if it is fine just calling it collaboration?

What do you think?
Are workplaces ready for love?

Dr Barbara Fredrickson