But why is that? Why can’t you put the Pringles down? Or stop scrolling Instagram every five minutes? Or watching online porn? Or binge drinking alcohol?
Because of a hormone called dopamine.
Dopamine gets released when you experience pleasure, and pleasure comes from food, alcohol, sex, social media and sugar. The more pleasure we feel, the more dopamine we produce. But paradoxically, dopamine, in high doses, causes us more harm than good.
There are two reasons for this.
First, dopamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter, which means it lights up neurons in your brain. The reason it feels good to receive Instagram likes is because dopamine is released, which stimulates your brain.
However, chronic overstimulation kills your brain cells, rendering you prone to ill health. In fact, the rise in Alzheimer’s is thought to be linked to overstimulation of neurons.
Remarkably, your brain has a defense mechanism for this. It decreases neuronal activity by producing less receptors – proteins that reside on the surface of your neuronal cells. Fewer receptors mean less pleasure.
Unfortunately, we have circumvented this mechanism, by choosing to eat more, drink more, smoke more and scroll more. In essence, increasing the stimulus for the same hit. This is addiction.
You end up miserable and unable to control your own body
Ever met a happy alcoholic? Thought not. And make no mistake, sugar, porn and social media are just as toxic to your brain as alcohol, nicotine, and drugs. The only difference is, the former do not come with a warning.
The second reason dopamine is harmful: it shuts down serotonin, the hormone in your brain responsible for happiness. This paradox explains why dopamine is so dangerous: the same things that we turn to for pleasure, are causing us to be depressed. WOW.
Know the difference between pleasure and happiness
- Pleasure is taking, happiness is giving
- Pleasure comes from substances, happiness cannot
- Pleasure can be alone, happiness is usually with others
- Pleasure derived from sugar, nicotine, internet, porn, social media and alcohol, can cause addiction, but there is no such thing as being addicted to too much happiness
How to fix yourself
Most of us are addicted to something, whether we know it or not. If you look at your cell phone first thing in the morning, you are addicted.
Resisting this and other urges starts by reducing dopamine levels and increasing serotonin. According to Dr. Robert Lustig, author of The Hacking of the American Mind and several other bestsellers, there are four ways to do this; what he calls the Four C’s.
Making interpersonal connections with people, eye-to-eye, produces the feel-good hormone Oxytocin (see here) which promotes feelings of trust and bonding. No handheld device or computer can do this, and we already know social media only generates dopamine.
Make the world a better place, be it in your profession or through an outside activity (e.g. volunteering). If you can see your work helping others, this drives serotonin.
Using sleep, mindfulness, and exercise. Adequate sleep reduces the body’s stress hormone cortisol which mimics some of the harmful effects of dopamine. Mindfulness means to focus on one thing at a time. And exercise is proven to increase serotonin levels.
Cooking combines all the above because it connects you to friends and family, it’s contribution based (you cook for others), and you need to be mindful to prepare a recipe, i.e. cope.
Your health is a function of happiness, not pleasure. Dopamine makes you fat, sick and miserable. Always choose happiness over pleasure.
As always, pushing for health.