How knowing the difference between pleasure and happiness could change your life, today!

Did you know that there’s a difference between pleasure and happiness? It’s true.

They are, biochemcially speaking, two totally different sensations, caused by two different neurotransmitters. Not only are they different – but they’re mutually exclusive. You have to choose. You can’t have both.

Here’s how it works: Pleasure is created by something called dopamine. This is the reward neurotransmitter. You get a rush of this whenever you engage in activities like sugar, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, pornography or going online.

What’s the problem with this? Dopamine is a ‘poisoned chalice’ substance, which means the more you get, the more you want. This is because dopamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter. Too much of it is neurotoxic – meaning that, over time, it causes cell death.

When a cell releases dopamine, the receiving cell on the other end reduces the number of receptors, to avoid being damaged. This means that next time, you will need more dopamine to get the same rush. Over time, the cell will actually die – and this is where you start to see proper addiction. This is why addicts aren’t happy people.

One quick and easy way to stimulate dopamine is to eat sugar. That’s why you may reach for a chocolate bar when you feel down, imagining that it will give you a boost. Neurochemically, however, this is impossible. Sugar will give you a temporary dopamine pleasure rush, but it will never, ever – for reasons we’ll discuss shortly – make you happy in the long term.

While pleasure is caused by dopamine, the sensation of calm happiness is caused by serotonin. Serotonin is not an excitatory neurotransmitter. When serotonin acts on its receptor, no damage occurs. So happiness, or contentment, does not lead to addictive behaviour.

But here’s the real kicker: dopamine and serotonin share a transporter. Like two teenagers who have to share a single car, if one of them has a ride, the other one doesn’t. So the more dopamine you have in your system, the less serotonin you can have.

And the ingredients – or precursors – for dopamine are found just about everywhere – in sugar and processed junk food! The precursor for serotonin is tryptophan – and tryptophan is found only in high quality protein foods like meat, eggs, cheese, fish and nuts.

So you’;re going to have to choose – between short term pleasure, which will become addictive, and long-term, sustainable happiness. You can’t have both!

If you’re going to opt for serotonin and happiness – and I hope, for your sake, that you do! Then the best way to boost serotonin is to

  1. Cut down on dopamine activities
  2. reduce the amount of sugar and processed food that you eat
  3. Increase your levels of high quality tryptophan, or protein foods
  4. Engage in serotonins activities. These include:
    1. Connecting – Make genuine human connections. Communicating on social media doesn’t count, because interpersonal connection means eye-to-eye contact. Seeing the expressions of the person to whom you’re speaking activates a set of neurons in your brain called mirror neurons, which are the drivers of empathy and specifically linked to serotonin.
      This doesn’t happen online; in fact, it’s just the opposite: use of social media generates dopamine, which leads to addiction, and reduces happiness. So online connection is another ‘poisoned chalice’ solution that ends up driving unhappiness.
    2. Contributing – studies show that volunteering and doing things that help others raise serotonin levels in your system.
    3. Coping – getting plenty of sleep, avoiding multi-tasking, turn off the screens. Avoiding exposure to the blue light emitted by electronic screens is essential, as this inhibits melatonin production, making it harder to sleep.

So choose long-term, sustainable happiness over short-term dopamine today – and watch your new life begin!

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4 Comments

  1. This is fantastic. Knowing this empowers me to have the conviction to persevere in limiting my childrens exposure to dopamine boosting activities and increase their serotonin !

    1. Hi Lyn – so great to hear that you’ve got your hands on the concept – you’re exactly right! Childhood is the time to teach them the difference between the two! Best, Shann

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