Robert Lustig The Hacking of the American Mind gratification

Seeking Gratification?

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Is it possible to be happy all the time? No. So how can we manage feeling low? The secret is to learn what makes your brain tick.

The reason we called our charity The Reward Foundation was to raise awareness about a little known, but vital part of the brain called the reward system. All our motivation, pleasure and pain, feelings of love and happiness are processed there. Addiction of all kinds develop in the reward system and it’s where we can manage them. Knowing more about what behaviours drive key neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, oxytocin and cortisol can help us regulate our thinking, decision making and priorities for the best possible outcome. Choosing what’s best for us as individuals can be challenging in the face of advertising that preys on our sensitive reward system to make us respond to instant gratification at all times.

With that in mind, we’re excited about a new book called The Hacking of the American Mind – The Science behind the Corporate Takeover of our Bodies and Minds, by Robert H Lustig. He is a neuroendocrinologist and Emeritus Professor of Pediatrics at the Institute for Health Policy Studies, University of California, San Francisco.

For an overview see a 32-minute interview about him and the book on YouTube.

This is an excerpt from an article in the Guardian about the new book.

“Here’s a story that is not about Trump or Brexit. But this could be worse, with even direr consequences. Addiction is up. Depression is up. Death is up. In America, we have seen a decline in our life expectancy for the first time since 1993. But this is not just happening in the US – death rates are up in the UK, Germany and China.

“At the same time, suicide rates in teenagers have reached an all-time high and continue to climb. … Across the pond in UK, you don’t have legal marijuana – yet. But heroin use has skyrocketed – the UK has only 8% of Europe’s population, yet a third of all European overdoses are in the UK. And depression has climbed sharply in tandem. According to the NHS, antidepressant prescriptions have increased 108% in the last 10 years, with a 6% increase in 2016 alone.

“…Or could there be some other primary factor, which is responsible for addiction, depression, diabetes, AND dementia?…

Neurotransmitters brain dopamine serotonin oxytocin

Where neurotransmitters work in the brain

“What’s the connection? Elementary, my dear Watson. Too much dopamine and not enough serotonin, the neurotransmitters of the brain’s “pleasure” and “happiness” pathways, respectively. 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.

“Furthermore, government legislation and subsidies have tolerated ever-available temptation (sugar, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, social media, porn) combined with constant stress (work, money, home, school, cyberbullying, internet), with the end result of an unprecedented epidemic of addiction, anxiety, depression and chronic disease. Thus, the more pleasure you seek, the more unhappy you get and the more likelihood you will slide into addiction or depression.

“Our ability to perceive happiness has been sabotaged by our modern incessant quest for pleasure, which our consumer culture has made all too easy to satisfy. Those who abdicate happiness for pleasure will end up with neither. Go ahead, pick your drug or device. Pick your poison. Your brain can’t tell the difference. But please be advised – it will kill you sooner or later, one way or another.”


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