[The problem is we are getting t]oo much dopamine and not enough serotonin, the neurotransmitters of the brain’s “pleasure” and “happiness” pathways… Despite what the telly and social media say, pleasure and happiness are not the same thing. Dopamine is the “reward” neurotransmitter that tells our brains: “This feels good, I want more.” Yet too much dopamine leads to addiction. Serotonin is the “contentment” neurotransmitter that tells our brains: “This feels good. I have enough. I don’t want or need any more.” Yet too little serotonin leads to depression. Ideally, both should be in optimal supply. But dopamine drives down serotonin. And chronic stress drives down both.
Too many of our “simple pleasures” have morphed into something else – a 6.5-oz soda became a 30z Big Gulp drink; an afternoon with friends gave way to 1,000 friendings on Facebook. Each of these momentary pleasures is just that – momentary. But chronic dopamine from your favourite “fix” reduces serotonin and happiness.
My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:
Beware of the elusive and destructive “pursuit of happiness.” Don’t buy into the lie. Happiness is like a butterfly. No matter how fast you run and how hard you work, it will continue to elude your grasp so long as you chase it. However, if you bathe, wear bright clothes, find a peaceful spot in the garden, and sit still, you’ll find that butterflies may come to you.
Happiness is like that. When you are too busy chasing after the things that make you happy, you get caught up in the chase and fail to slow down to enjoy the moments that make up life, those moments in which happiness is hidden and waiting to be discovered. For example, happiness is being with you, watching you play, hearing you tell your stories and your discoveries, seeing the brightness in your eyes. The activities in which we are engaged in those moments are unimportant. If I over-emphasize those activities and put too much import in making sure they are perfect (as we are apt to do), I would have overlooked those moments of happiness from simply being in your presence.
Tips for Getting a Butterfly to Land on You
If you’re lucky, a butterfly might land on you while you are in the exhibit. Though there’s no guarantee this will work but, you can do a few things to increase your chances. The best rule of thumb is to act like a flower:
- Wear brightly colored clothes. I have a bright yellow and orange tie-dyed shirt that always seems to lure butterflies to me.
- Smell sweet. If you’re wearing a skin lotion or perfume that smells a bit like flowers, that attract a hungry butterfly.
- Stay still. Flowers don’t move, so you won’t fool a butterfly if you’re walking around. Find a bench and stay put for a while.
But, worse, in truth, the “pursuit of happiness” in modern time has turned into nothing but the unrelenting pursuit of pleasure. We stuff ourselves with Doritos, sodas, and other junk food because food scientists at Frito-Lay, PepsiCo, and elsewhere found the exact chemical formula to ensure those chips, drinks, etc. stimulate our taste buds and ensure we cannot stop at eating just one chip, one sip, etc. See, e.g., http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/magazine/the-extraordinary-science-of-junk-food.html. Gaming companies spend billions of dollars and countless hours scouring psychological studies and techniques to ensure their games produce the optimum mix of reward and chance to ensure that players would spend hours hooked to the game. Social media giants are no less devious.
As stated in the Guardian article above, dopamine is the reward neurotransmitter that tells our brain Doritos taste good and you should have another. Unfortunately, that way lies food addiction and obesity.
On the other hand, serotonin is the contentment neurotransmitter that tells us we’ve had our fill of the good stuff and should stop. While serotonin cannot be found in chips, sodas, and video games, it can be yours with a massage, meditation, outdoors activities in the bright sunlight, exercise, or a healthy diet. See, e.g., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077351/; and, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201111/boosting-your-serotonin-activity. (Yeah, there’s science behind that as well … the good science, not the science that feeds the greed.)
My sons, don’t feed the black hole that is man’s unquenchable desires. If you chase after pleasure, you will find it a relentless and endless pursuit. Our brain is hardwired to adapt, so a new watch or a new game will quickly lose its luster as you adjust to having it and reset your sight on something different. See, e.g., http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/07/magazine/the-futile-pursuit-of-happiness.html.
Still yourself. Enjoy the moment and the people around you. Help those less fortunate. Work with others to build a better community for yourselves. I promise that you will find the effort extremely rewarding, and happiness will ensues.
All my love, always,