I almost always get to work in a good mood. I commute even. 20 minutes minimum, 2 freeways, and one stop before I walk through the door of the Reno Collective and plop down after some snide remark, dirty joke, jovial geek greeting. How do I manage that? Drugs.

Used to be endorphins. I used to commute by bike. Sometimes riding along the Truckee River Bike Path, sometimes spinning a 35 minute commute that took me through a nice urban park with nearly a mile of dirt trail. Even with the frustration of motorists getting too close, cutting you off, yelling out the window, a bike commute is inherently less stressful than a car commute because of the endorphins expressed during exercise. At least it is for me.

That was three years ago. My life is different now. I still ride a lot, but my commute involves a car, sometimes a dog, my son and a stop at daycare.

It can be stressful and frustrating being self employed. Deadlines are a bit more important when you’re the only one responsible. Days that stack up with more work than you think is possible are as overwhelming as days with nothing on your calendar and nothing to bill. Forgetting my computer cable can cost me an hour of my own time. But when I drop Bowie off at Daycare and spend just a few minutes playing with him and the other kids, my mood instantly improves.

The Drug

Paul Zak’s Ted Talk, Trust, Morality and Oxytocin, starts out talking about morality, then trust, then gets into love and hapiness. He uses the body’s production of the chemical oxytocin as a proxy for measuring our ability to trust, bond with other people and treat each other better (be moral). He’s another guy who has spent a lot of time and energy and money learning something my mom knew a long time ago.

Zak conducted experiments that measured subject’s oxytocin levels as they performed trust experiments and found that people with higher oxytocin were more likely to be more trusting, altruistic and moral. He also figured out how to trigger production of oxytocin in the body.

In the talk he tells about two experiments that illuminated the role of oxytocin in everyday life. First he tested the participants in a wedding. The oxytocin levels of the wedding party were pegged to their role in the ceremony with the bride at the center with the highest levels. Second, he predicted that a male subject tested while interacting on facebook attained an extremely high oxytocin level by chatting with his girlfriend.

He concludes the talk by telling the audience that manipulating your oxytocin level, and in turn your trust, altruism and morality is easy. Close physical contact, even when we know the expected outcome, can trigger oxytocin, make us feel good, and improve our mood.

Everyone gets a bounce

At the end of his talk Zak prescribes 8 hugs a day to increase your oxytocin.

We have found that people who release more oxytocin are happier. And they’re happier because they have better relationships of all types. 8 hugs a day: You’ll be happier and the world will be a better place. [Watch the TED video]

When I walk in the door at daycare things get a little loud. I’m that guy. There are three little girls, from 1 to 3 and three little boys, a 10 month old and my son and his cousin, 22 months. And they all get a bounce. The bounce is easy and I’ve trained them now, they hold my hands and get three swinging bounces, as high as I can without hitting the ceiling fan or another kid. The little kids get a hug-bounce so I don’t gank their arms.

That’s it. One catch: before they get a bounce, I get a hug. Strictly quid pro quo. Some adrenalin for them, some oxytocin for me and a much hapier Wolfy for the rest of the world.

-M