All photos by Shamani Joshi
Happiness comes in many forms. It can be found in validation from success at work, a hearty conversation with a friend, the long-craved-for attention from a crush, or simply the satisfaction from a self-care routine. A quick look online will tell you that it can also apparently be achieved through biohacking – the growing movement of people using DIY science, self-experimentation and supplements to improve their body and mind.
There are various ways to get into biohacking. Some biohackers are part of the grinder subculture, which involves inserting implants or gadgets, such as RFID chips, into their bodies to optimise physical abilities. Kinda like becoming human cyborgs. Others toy around with DIY biology, roping in experts to help them conduct experiments on themselves outside controlled environments like labs. Some also take nootropics or substances that can enhance cognitive functions to help your brain process information faster. But perhaps the most accessible method of biohacking is through nutrigenomics, which is about altering your diet and lifestyle to see how it interacts with your genes.I won’t lie. When I first found out that a large number of people on the internet were using the nutrigenomic method to hack their way to happiness, I wondered whether it was all a load of toxic positivity and consumerist self-help bullshit. Then another thought came to me: If there are people who have actually gotten happier this way in a world that’s growing increasingly terrifying by the day, what could be the harm in giving their techniques a try? So, in the name of science and content, I decided to biohack my way to happiness using the nutrigenomics method for two weeks.
I am one of those who can’t start the day without my morning cup of coffee, almost to the point where it feels like my life, or at least my productivity, depends on it. So, when I found out that drinking more caffeine is a shortcut to happiness according to several biohackers, I was instantly sold.
Drinking more caffeine
One week into continuing my regularly scheduled morning cuppa, happiness still seemed elusive in the face of mounting deadlines and revenge socialising that everyone around me is suddenly into. That’s when I decided to indulge in a classic biohacker twist to my daily caffeine boost: bulletproof coffee.
To make my own bulletproof coffee, all I needed was to elevate my regular cuppa with dairy-free butter and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) oil, usually found in compounds like coconut oil. The result was a rich and intensely flavoured brew, the kind that can kick in with just a whiff. At first, gulping down bulletproof coffee was accompanied by an instant side of gag reflex and an aftertaste that made me miss the days of simple iced mocha. But I persisted, and though I can’t say this coffee did wonders for my taste buds (especially because I can’t stand the smell of coconut oil), it definitely gave my morning productivity a kick in the shins. Even if it was a hard, brutal kick at that. As I acclimated to the questionable taste of bulletproof coffee, I saw my energy levels boosted like never before. I was an invincible 8 AM corporate warrior, furiously typing my way through every task on my agenda as I smiled and nodded through morning meetings. The high only lasted a handful of hours before I went back to my usual slower speeds, but I have to say it was an exhilarating experience.
Did hiking up my daily caffeine intake make me more productive and energetic? Definitely. Did it make me happier? Kinda, considering how we feel about ourselves in this capitalist world is so intertwined with how productive we are and how fulfilling the work we do is. Rating: 4/5
Turns out, love and other drugs aren’t the only ways to boost serotonin levels in our brains. Research shows that getting a few extra minutes of sunlight, which contains mood-boosting blue light, can do wonders for improving your mood and productivity. It all sounded simple except for one glaring thing: I live in the Indian city of Mumbai, where accessing open spaces to absorb sunlight isn’t exactly easy or pleasurable. So, I did the only thing I could and cracked open a window for a couple of hours every day. I doused myself in a high-SPF sunblock, and settled down on the windowsill, attempting to go through my day as if we weren’t bang in the middle of a heatwave.
Getting more mood-boosting blue light
At first, the warm blanket of sunlight felt comforting. But pretty soon, it turned me into a droopy, sweaty slump. Given that outside temperatures were touching 37 degrees Celsius, the sunlight soon made me feel hot, irritable and snappy. Maybe this one isn’t meant for those living in countries that favour sunblock oils over suntan ones? Rating: 1/5
Intermittent fasting is a trendy diet method that essentially stipulates you can eat whatever you want as long as you do it within a daily eight-hour period, and then not eat anything before and after. Since I’m not exactly the kind of person who can stick to a diet of tossed salads and grilled chicken, it definitely sounded like an appealing alternative. So, for two weeks, I tried to stick to eating all meals between noon and 8PM. Of course, it was easier said than done, especially given that it was in these two weeks that my friends decided to make multiple dinner plans. Oh well, I thought, all diets have cheat days, don’t they? In the first week, I only managed to stick to this diet for three days out of the seven, with my weekend night-outs making all semblance of structure go for a toss. The second week was slightly more successful, in that I managed to do it for four days. Incremental changes, right?
I’m not sure if two weeks marred with my lack of self-control were enough to determine the efficacy of this diet on the journey to happiness. But on the few days that I did manage to stick by it, I definitely felt less bloated and far more at ease. It’s probably a way of life I could consider. Rating: 3/5
I’m intolerant to gluten, dairy and sugar. That means, I already do follow an elimination diet of sorts, which involves cutting out certain foods from your daily diet and then reintroducing them slowly to see how your body reacts. Instead, I thought, for the sake of this article (and my intense cravings), maybe I could spend two weeks unapologetically indulging in the sustenance I wasn’t supposed to. And I’m not gonna lie – the thought of finally eating the forbidden fruit already made me feel a little happier.I decided I would give a couple of days to each food type. I started out by swapping my oat milk for the full-fat variety. Sadly, it made my bulletproof coffee even heavier, bogging me down with a bloated feeling for most of the day. I then decided to indulge in ice cream, especially given how high the Mumbai temperatures had peaked. This decision did induce some stomach cramps, but I have to say the sugary goodness of a scoop of mint chocolate did wonders for my mood. The last assailant my stomach tried to take on was gluten. I spent about three days eating all the crap I usually can’t: burgers, Eggs Benedict on toast, and aloo paratha (potato-stuffed flatbread).
The elimination diet
Again, it did lead to some rumbling sounds in my tummy and made me feel full faster. But overall, my digestive tract was fairly unbothered by the mini assaults. Sweet, I thought, maybe my body was finally evolving to a point where I could handle the occasional dose of dairy, gluten and sugar without feeling like my life was falling apart. And in that very thought, I found more happiness than I had in months. Rating: 5/5
I realise that by this point, biohacking kinda sounds like the advice a boomer would give you when you complain about literally anything. But, turns out, boosting endorphins, which are the chemicals produced by our body to relieve stress and pain, are an important part of the process. Exercising is one of the best endorphin boosters out there. And since I couldn’t run away from all my problems, I put on my sneakers and went for a jog instead. The first week brought more pain than the promised land of happiness. But by the second, I was clocking 8,000 steps around the park with far more ease. By the end of my two weeks, not only did I feel more energy but I also felt less bothered by some of the usual downers, from bumping into an ex to dealing with online trolls. Some biohackers also recommend cryotherapy as an endorphin booster. But since I didn’t want to pay to sit in a tub of ice, I decided to settle for a cold shower instead. Given the heatwave I spoke about earlier, this was an enjoyable exercise and did wonders for lifting my mood.
All in all, I would say my experimental escape into the world of biohacking did bring me closer to happiness, even if that happiness came more from the satisfaction of sticking to a routine I otherwise would have been too lazy to try. Given that we live in a culture that ties our self-worth with professional success and makes us aspire to actually become “that girl,” maybe the satisfaction I was feeling was also short-lived and driven purely by the fact that I was able to discipline myself into a productive routine. So, if you ask me if I unlocked the ultimate key to happiness, the answer would be probably not. But I had managed to inculcate some meaningful lifestyle habits along the way, and that is something that can always do more good than bad. Follow Shamani on Instagram and Twitter.