I just snapped this photo of Griffin and our dog, Spencer. They’re often inseparable. Is there anything better than the love between a boy and his dog?

I’ve talked about the joy I experienced from “big” pleasures like swimming in the Ionian Sea or climbing the Eiffel Tower, but of course, it’s much more likely that I’ll derive happiness from small pleasures, like petting my dog or holding Doug’s hand.

This week’s post is all about the scientific basis for how those small sources of happiness yield big benefits.

I learned about oxytocin early in my midwifery training. Of all hormones, it’s probably the most important to birth and breastfeeding. It acts as a chemical messenger that tells the uterus to contract and the mammary glands to produce milk. (A hormone is a chemical substance produced in the body that controls and regulates the activity of certain cells or organs – in other words, it’s like a drug.)

So, that’s the old-school oxytocin, which is fascinating in itself, but there’s more!

Recent studies have begun to investigate oxytocin’s role in various behaviors associated with well-being – including love, trust, and social connection.

I first became aware that oxytocin wasn’t just a one-hit wonder in pregnancy when I read Temple Grandin’s fascinating book Animals in Translation back in 2004. You may have heard of Temple Grandin because her life and story were featured in an HBO drama.

I haven’t seen the film, but I highly recommend that you learn more about her and her fascinating work. In addition to being an author, she’s a university professor, an animal behavior researcher and consultant…and profoundly autistic.

Although her autism creates a barrier in communicating with humans, she feels it helped her be more successful in communicating with other animals. She says, “Animal behavior was the right field for me, because what I was missing in social understanding I could make up for in understanding animals. Half the cattle in the United States and Canada are handled in humane slaughter systems I’ve designed.”

OxytocinOne area of her research looked at how pets might improve the health of their owners. I’ll never forget being astounded by her finding that, “A dog’s oxytocin levels rise when his owner pets him, and petting his dog raises the owner’s oxytocin, too.”

It’s likely that oxytocin make humans into nicer, better people because high levels of oxytocin are linked to increased calm and nurturing behaviors. It quiets the fear circuitry in our brains so that when we look around we see opportunities for peaceful connection instead of threatening menace.

When our predisposition to judge and find fault is held in check we are more likely to look for, notice and respond to friendly exchanges.

And it’s a self-perpetuating cycle! After a positive exchange, more oxytocin is released and we are even more likely to reach out and interact with others in a cooperative and nurturing manner.

Another amazing thing about oxytocin is that the positive experiences it encourages apply to all species of animals. This means oxytocin can create and sustain a social feedback system that knows no boundaries – and as most animal lovers intuitively know, it contributes to a sense that we are able to connect with animals, to understand them, and that they understand us, even though we don’t share a spoken language.

We can all improve our well-being by forming meaningful connections with any other being. Studies show that oxytocin is the reason why people with pets tend to recover more quickly from illness, why married people tend to live longer, and why support groups benefit those who attend them.

Oxytocin which was once thought to have a narrow role in the workings of labor and lactation is now being called the “touch,” “bonding” and “love” hormone.

You know what the best part is? It doesn’t come in a pill and it doesn’t cost a thing. All you need to do is care for another – appreciation, loving touch, sustained eye contact – all raise oxytocin levels.

And the more you give, the more you get. How great is that?!

UPDATE: Last week I mentioned that I created a “crowdsourcing” campaign to raise money for my dear friends Mary Cade and Gawain Mainwaring to help offset the costs related to Gawain’s cancer treatment. We crossed the $20,000 mark after only 4 days!

Mary Cade shared that Gawain has visibly relaxed knowing that the financial burdens are fewer now than they were a week ago. I especially love that she said that they feel the support “on a cellular level.”

Last week I shared with you my dream of creating a powerful example of hope and healing. Well, now that we’ve come together for a great cause, that dream is manifesting!

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Stacey with Mary Cade and Emeryn

The photo to the right is me with my dear friend, Mary Cade, and her adorable daughter, Emeryn. You’ll find out more about them below, but first a little background for readers that are new to the Midwife for Your Life community.

For many years I’ve asked family, friends, and dear readers to give to an important cause in honor of my birthday.

Last year, for my 44th birthday, I asked to give to a cause very close to my heart, Midwives for Haiti, with the promise to match every gift up to $440.

We ended up raising OVER $1,000 ($1,339 to be exact!) to CHANGE THE LIVES OF WOMEN AND BABIES IN HAITI! It was a HUGE cause for celebration, and I’m hoping we might even have more reason to celebrate THIS year.

This year I’m asking you to give to a cause that is even closer to my heart and I want to raise much more than $1,000 – I want to raise $100,000. I will joyfully contribute $450 in honor of my 45th birthday! And if you let me know you contributed (just let me know via email or as a comment on the You Caring campaign page), I will match every dollar!

Does $100,000 seem overly ambitious? I would have thought so before I learned of a similar “crowdsourcing” campaign two years ago that raised over $100,000 for Patti Digh’s husband when they needed help to cover his cancer treatment.

I often look to others for inspiration. I find that the knowledge that they can do it convinces me that I can do it, too. I’m inspired by Patti Digh’s campaign — and with that shining example, I know we can accomplish the same thing. What are we trying to do? Read on to find out.

But first, know that I would love for you to give because you are moved by their story. I would love for you to give because it simply feels good.

And I would love for you to give for one more reason, too.

Yes, Patti Digh’s campaign inspired me to start this campaign for Mary Cade and her family.

And it honestly gives me goose bumps to think about how we could inspire others by our example.

Now here’s the story:

I’ve known Mary Cade and Gawain for over 14 years. I was actually one of their midwives when they were expecting Annie.

They are amazing people – loving parents of Annie, Eliza and Emeryn – and still madly in love, even after 15 years of marriage.

The girls are just as in love with their energetic, fun, crazy daddy as he is in them.

Gawain is a self-employed contractor and owner of Smart Builders. He has dedicated his career to building super energy efficient homes and was voted Best Residential Contractor in Western North Carolina in 2013.

He is loving, courageous, and completely devoted to his family, friends and community.

Gawain and Mary CadeIn 2011 Gawain was diagnosed with stage-2 colon cancer. Gawain took this as a challenge and after a year-long schedule of surgery, chemotherapy and lots of love he beat the odds and was cancer-free for 2½ years.

In 2014 the cancer returned and had spread to his bones. Gawain’s doctors in Asheville held out little to no hope for a cure with the treatments they could offer.

Gawain and Mary Cade took this as their next challenge. They embarked on a month-long, cross-country, exhaustive search to find a team of health providers who could offer real hope and healing.

They found it in a health center in Washington, DC that offers a truly unique program of traditional, alternative and complementary therapies to treat his cancer.

Then another challenge. Their insurance won’t be able to cover all of the treatment.

That’s where they need our help. The many expenses related to the alternative and complementary therapies, the travel, and the lost work add up.

Together we can make sure that Gawain beats the odds again and continues to do his best, most important life’s work – being a husband to Mary Cade, a father to Eliza, Annie and Emeryn, and our dear friend.

To give, please click here:

And please remember that of the many reasons to give – even to someone you don’t know – one of the most compelling is to create an example as powerful as Patti Digh’s of what happens when people come together to accomplish something amazing.

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My Mindset Retreat Breakthroughs (+ lots of great pics!)

October 7, 2014

Wow! There were SO many wonderful things that happened in the last week, but one of the best parts was that I got to spend it in gorgeous, sunny Florida with Doug. It was the first time we’d had a week away with just the two of us since Griffin was born over 9 years […]

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Use Your Emotional Guidance System to Feel Great AND Accomplish Great Things

September 30, 2014

The photo captures Griffin and two of his best friends after a “movie making” play date (that’s a Flip video camera in Marley’s hand). Marley has been one of Griffin’s best friends since Kindergarten (Jackson became a BFF when he joined Griffin’s class last year), and I honestly can’t believe how much these kids have […]

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Leap Before You Look and other surprising keys to success

September 23, 2014

The photo shows my husband, Doug, enjoying a much-deserved break after sending in the final draft for his book that will be published by Capstone Press in September 2015. I’m so proud of him! It’s been a big writing week in our household – I just completed my chapter for Choosing Happiness, the anthology that’s […]

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How to Take “Leap and the Net Will Appear” from Cliché to Reality

September 16, 2014

I know, I know – “the new car shot” is a complete internet marketing cliché – but I couldn’t resist! Doug and I hadn’t bought a new (to us) car in over 10 years – and the cars we had been driving were 16 and 18 years old, both with over 200,000 miles on them. When […]

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How to tell if you’re succeeding or struggling

September 9, 2014

Griffin had his first soccer game with the HFC Academy Soccer League last weekend. The game started at 8 am and in order to be at the field in time for the warm up he had to wake at 6:30 – a full hour before he’s usually up for school! As you can see from […]

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SOS for Shiny Object Syndrome

September 2, 2014

This is one of my favorite times of year – I can’t seem to kick the feeling of “Back to School” excitement that I’ve had since I was a little kid. Griffin decided to skip the 4th grade this year, and we’re all super excited to see how the 5th grade unfolds for him! Although […]

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How Tiny Tweaks Can Transform Your Life

August 26, 2014

The photo to the right was taken during a shoot for the Aspire Magazine cover in December. (Of course, I can’t use it for the cover because my eyes are closed, but I love that it shows my genuine delight in that moment. And I love that I can share it with you!) If you […]

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What Robin Williams’ death can teach us about helplessness and hope

August 19, 2014

That’s Griffin in front of his lemonade stand last weekend. When we were getting ready, I asked him how much he planned to charge for a glass. He said 50 cents. I said he could do that OR he could offer the lemonade for free and have a jar for tips. He was a little […]

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