Perhaps the most compelling way to warm up to winter: hot chocolate. The wintertime treat is rich in chemicals that enhance dopamine, a neurotransmitter than boosts mood. Compared to controls, volunteers who drank a cocoa drink in a recent study at Northumbria University in Britain performed better on cognitive tasks, had more mental stamina and were in better spirits. Credit goes to chemicals called flavonols—compounds in cocoa that have been found to increase cerebral blood flow and brain activity.
Even if all you do is clutch the cozy, steaming mug, you may find yourself feeling more positive and receptive. In an experiment at Yale University, researchers asked volunteers to handle a hot cup before evaluating a stranger. Compared to people who held a cold cup, hot-handlers gave the stranger more favorable ratings, perceiving her as warmer. It’s a trick of the insula: Physical warmth activates the same neural circuits in the brain associated with feelings of emotional warmth. Warmer hands, warmer heart.