In an article by Robert H Lustig about his new book ‘The Hacking of the American Mind,’ there were some intriguing revelations about the impact of modern society’s constant need for instant gratification.
The bad news:
It makes for sober reading – depression and suicide rates are on the increase in the UK, as well as in the US, Germany and China. Prescriptions for antidepressants in the UK are up by 108% from 10 years ago. Diabetes, heart disease, dementia and fatty liver disease are snowballing into epidemic proportions.
How is our pursuit of pleasure to blame for all of this? It’s precisely how we seek to feel happier that is contributing to the upsurge in these conditions. Our addictions to tobacco, alcohol, sugar and, more recently, technology (which can lead to sleep deprivation) have been shown to be major factors in the development of these diseases and can also be link to ballooning rates of depression.
The science bit:
We derive pleasure from dopamine, whose production also leads us to crave more and more (potentially leading to addiction).
We feel contentment, on the other hand, because of serotonin. This contentment is more of an appreciation of the simpler things in life.
What is most striking about this article is that too much dopamine (highs from excess sugar, alcohol, social media, gambling, porn etc) actually suppresses the production of serotonin.
The big irony:
‘The more pleasure you seek, the more unhappy you get and the more likelihood you will slide into addiction or depression.’
So what can we do to ensure that we minimise the negative impact of modern living?
The good news:
Working towards reducing our consumption of addictive substances is one goal, although we all know that is easier said than done!
Stress and depression can be reduced by developing strong social networks. Being able to reach out to others in good times and in bad helps improve our mood and our outlook on life.
Research also shows that by changing how we view things, with the help of those close to us or through counselling, we can develop a different perspective, think more positively and build up our ability to weather life's storms.
Being outside in daylight, even on a cloudy day will help to boost serotonin levels, giving a mood boost. In the winter months, when daylight is in shorter supply, it can have an even bigger impact.
Exercise too, has a big influence on how we feel and helps reduce stress.
In short, a walk outside in your lunch hour with a colleague or a friend ticks just about every box!
Robert Lustig’s full article can be found here:
Scientific research on naturally improving serotonin levels can be found here: