The Surprising Connection Between The 'Love Hormone' And Life Satisfaction

It's a tricky question — how do we measure life satisfaction? While the answer will be unique to each individual, scientists have identified common themes amongst those who report overall feelings of happiness with their lives. Such factors include health status, a sense of purpose, strong social connections, and a positive mindset (via Science Daily). Science shows that, in turn, having an increased life satisfaction can greatly benefit both our physical and mental health in numerous ways by reducing depression risk, chronic pain, and increasing longevity.

But new research suggests that life satisfaction may also be influenced by physiological factors. Specifically, the release of oxytocin. Known as the "love hormone," oxytocin promotes healthy reproductive and social behaviors (per Medical News Today). What may be lesser known, however, is that oxytocin is also associated with feelings of trust, empathy, and generosity towards others. Now, a recent study published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience further reinforces this by showing that those who experience a greater boost in oxytocin when emotionally prompted, are more likely to report higher levels of gratitude and overall life satisfaction.

Oxytocin may increase empathy and generosity

Researchers examined the relationship between oxytocin levels and rates of helping behaviors, empathy, and life satisfaction in more than 100 California-based adults between the ages of 18 and 99 (via Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience). Participants ranged from students to residents of independent living communities. A connection was found between age and the degree of oxytocin released when participants were given a video clip to watch designed to provoke feelings of empathy. In analyzing participant blood samples taken before and after viewing a clip of a father discussing his 2-year-old son's cancer diagnosis, evidence showed that older individuals experienced a greater spike in oxytocin levels than young people, reports Medical News Today.

Compensated for their time, participants were asked if they wanted to donate a portion of their earnings to St. Jude's Research Hospital afterwards. Those with greater increases in oxytocin levels tended to donate larger monetary amounts. With those in the younger age group found to donate the least amount of money, middle-aged participants tended to donate twice as much, while adults over the age of 65 donated 168% more money compared to the young adults (per Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience). Seniors were also found to spend more time engaged in volunteer work.

Through a five-question survey, researchers discovered that adults who experienced greater oxytocin release after watching the video were likely to report significantly more feelings of life satisfaction (via Medical News Today).