Flowers are used to show love and affection, commemorate life occasions, and honor the memory of loved ones who have passed. While their sensory appeal is obvious, we wondered why they have taken on such a meaningful role in our society. As Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D., explains for Psychology Today, flowers actually trigger the happy chemicals of dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin in our brains.
Breuning, who is a Cornell graduate, founder of The Inner Mammal Institute, and author of Habits of a Happy Brain and The Science of Positivity, believes that an understanding of our mammalian history will help us hardwire our brains for positivity. She believes that flowers, which once signaled food and prosperity, can help us do that.
"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," she explains. While we now have access to food year-round and no longer link flowers to food, that dopamine trigger tells our brain to expect something positive.
Flowers also trigger oxytocin, the "bonding hormone." "Oxytocin creates the nice feeling of social trust, whether romantic love, maternal attachment, or group solidarity," she writes. As we mentioned above, giving or receiving flowers "stimulates [that] social trust in many ways."
Similarly, flowers can give you that sense of social purpose and advancement that triggers serotonin. "Many of our social rituals exist to satisfy this natural urge in a healthy way," she writes. "Flowers support these rituals. Whether you give them, receive them, or buy them for yourself, flowers help you feel important in ways that do no harm." She recommends going hiking through wildflowers to experience all three sensations at once (plus the endorphins associated with exercise).
Next up, learn how to turn your home into a greenhouse.