Flower power and the happy hormones

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A sunflower picture from 2015 which I planted with my own hands, and it grew taller than me (not difficult), even taller than my garden fence (more difficult).  Of course, I have to mention my wife Chris because she does infinitely more gardening than I do, and she would have nurtured the sunflower from start to finish after I planted it.  Nonetheless, I still felt a remarkably close association with the outcome! 

My most liked Facebook posts in 2020 (the year of COVID) related to plant and forest pictures and there is a reason flowers proved to be more popular than my other posts. Flowers, particularly with vibrant colour, stimulate our happiness hormones, including serotonin. Now, serotonin has a bad press in the Neuroendocrine Cancer world, but it’s a really important hormone for everyone. The most common functional tumours do oversecrete this hormone but that is a totally different effect because the happiness effect above comes from brain serotonin which is separate from the peripheral serotonin issues we know about. Moreover, every human being needs brain serotonin for normal function (including NET patients) and several other neurotransmitters; and they need them for many purposes.  The others include dopamine, oxytocin.  So, what’s the connection?  When reading the 3 paragraphs below, remember, I’m talking about brain hormones, not the stuff NETs secrete – that’s a different issue.

Dopamine – Dopamine is triggered by the expectation of a reward. Flowers were a huge reward signal in the world our brain evolved in because they marked the coming of abundance after a hungry winter. Today we have enough to eat all year round so we don’t consciously link flowers with food. But the blossoming of a flower triggers the sense that something special is coming because it triggers dopamine. But bright colours in general seem to increase the special nature of flowers because they send out signals, even including nutritional value and feeling happier via the chemistry.

Oxytocin – This chemical is often called the “bonding hormone.” Oxytocin creates a nice feeling of social trust, whether romantic love, maternal attachment, or group solidarity. We all know how hard this feeling is to find, and how easily it can be lost. That’s why we’re so eager for ways to stimulate it. Flowers help here too because they convey a certain respect for both fragility and the care and attention needed to grow and sustain something.

Serotonin – last but not least. This chemical is often mentioned in the context of depression if levels are low, often treated by antidepressants, but research indicates that it’s also involved in a sense of pride that is not only involved in growing your own flowers but also in buying and receiving them, not forgetting admiring them from a distance (including in photographs), Flowers are known to stimulate the sense of pride that your brain is looking for. If you fail to stimulate your brain serotonin, you can feel bad.

For a more technical overview of Serotonin and Neuroendocrine Cancer – read my comprehensive overview – click here

With that in mind, here’s a selection of flower photos (plus one or two other colour-associated themes) which proved to be quite popular on my Facebook page in 2020 (so far).

our garden in summer
our garden in summer
it’s not just flowers, the colours in this scene were very stimulating for me. Click on the picture to see more.
and the great outdoors also produces stimulating scenes via colour – the heather was the attraction but the green and blue also add to the effect. Click on the picture to see more
the blue, pink and green (plus the blonde) – this was a picture I had to take.  Click on the picture to see more
Sheffield Park Gardens in East Sussex is one of the most colourful parks we visited. Click the picture to see the rest
Exbury gardens in Hampshire New Forest was pretty spectacular in April – click to see more
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