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  • Writer's pictureMichael McEntee

The dopamine effect

Part of the issue is that in the modern age, pleasure and happiness have become confused. Pleasure is all about the phenomenon of reward. This can be achieved through things like impulsive shopping, sex, or outright substance abuse. On the other hand, happiness is a state of general contentment that requires little in the way of a trigger. The neurotransmitters in our brains control our pleasure/happiness responses. While the dopamine hit feels good in the moment, it's suppressing the serotonin in our brains, the chemical responsible for calmness and satisfaction. This means that overindulging in these pleasures are making us unhappier in the long run.

Pleasure and happiness are not equal Understanding the difference between pleasure, or reward and happiness or contentment is the first step on the road to true happiness. Pleasure is the feeling of 'this feels good. I want more'. Happiness is the feeling of 'this feels good I don't want or need any more'.

  • Pleasure is short-lived, lasting only about an hour after that bar of chocolate. Happiness lasts from weeks to years.

  • Pleasure is exciting and activates a fight-or-flight system, ramping up your heart rate. Happiness causes your heart rate to slow down.

  • Pleasure can be achieved with different substances, such as sugar, alcohol, heroin, caffeine. Happiness cannot.

  • Pleasure is "yours and yours alone". Conversely, your contentment or lack thereof often impacts on people directly and can impact society at large.

  • Pleasure is associated with the act of taking, like winning money at a casino or shopping for clothes. Happiness is many times generated through giving, whether donating time or to charity.

  • Pleasure in the extreme can lead to addiction. Yet there's no such thing as being too happy.

In order to up serotonin you have to dampen dopamine. That means sometimes disconnecting, which most of us have a very hard time doing. Turn off your phone for an hour a day, preferably while you have dinner with another human being, take time out doing things that ground you like walking the dog, cooking or meditating. Step off the hedonistic treadmill for a while, eliminate your dopamine triggers and just enjoy knowing that you can control your own happiness.

Extracts taken from John Sanei from

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