The "love molecule," oxytocin, is the chemical foundation for trusting others. Activated by positive social interactions, it makes us care about others in tangible ways, and it motivates us to work together for a common purpose.
After a dozen years studying the role oxytocin plays in human behavior, I thought I'd share an answer to the question I am most often asked: How can I raise my levels? As the paperback version of The Moral Molecule hits the shelves, this seems an appropriate time to unveil my top 10 list.
1. Eight hugs a day. We have shown that touch not only raises oxytocin, but it reduces cardiovascular stress and can improve the immune system, too. Try telling people that you hug rather than shake hands and see what happens when you give others the gift of oxytocin.
2. Use the "L" word. Tell those around you that you love them. Oxytocin is the love molecule so it is part of our evolved biology to love others (both "philia" and "eros"). You've got to put it out there to get it back. With friends, too, and maybe even at work.
3. Pet a dog. This doesn't always work unless the dog belongs to you, but if you identify as a "dog person," any old dog will raise your oxytocin. The dog won't complain, either. And once your oxytocin is up, you'll connect better to the humans around you, too.
4. Ride a roller coaster or jump out of an airplane. Many activities that are moderately stressful and done with one or more other people raise oxytocin. My recent tandem skydive produced a greater than 200% oxytocin spike. Try being a single rider on a roller coaster and you'll experience an immediate bond with the person next to you
5. Use social media. OK, you are doing this anyway, but you should know that 100% of the people I tested using social media had an increase in oxytocin. Just don't forget to see your Facebook friends in person, too.
6. Soak in a hot tub. I love to do this with my kids. The warm temperature and time together offer the ability to connect with them. And we all look goofy when wet, making this even more fun.
7. Meditate while focusing on others. My lab has found that a form of meditation called "metta," in which one focuses on loving others, is better at fostering social connections than standard mindfulness meditation.
8. Share a meal. Eating moderately is calming and helps us bond with others. Including a glass of wine is fine, too. You can increase the effect by following #9 and making the meal you share a gift.
9. Give a gift. Our first human oxytocin studies showed that receiving gifts raised oxytocin. So why not make this a regular practice? The key is not to expect a gift in return, just surprise someone for no reason.
10. Listen with your eyes. Instead of being glued to an electronic device, give the person with you your complete attention. Watch their face and listen to what he or she is telling you.
Studies show that the more one releases oxytocin, the easier it becomes to do so. That has certainly been my experience in practicing these oxytocin-releasing activities. If you can do all 10, you'll be an oxytocin master.