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The Hacking of the American Mind: Pleasure vs. Happiness

Robert Lustig MD's book called Fat Chance was a New York Times best seller a few years back and I read it with relish - finally putting a nail in the coffin of the disastrous health effects of the 70 yr Low-Fat diet promoted in our country and throughout the Western world.


So, I was happy to read his latest book called The Hacking of the American Mind which explains how Madison Avenue has co-opted our happiness in favor of profit. 

The book is essentially a study of the neurobiology of the 2 most important neurotransmitters connected with mood and mind:  Dopamine and Serotonin.

The job of dopamine is to deliver pleasure - a short term hit, and very necessary for human evolution and survival.  Without the promise of the hit of pleasure waiting for us in the kitchen with that first cup of coffee, no one would get up in the morning. Everything from coffee, alcohol, coca-cola, a shopping spree, sex, pornography, drugs, every shiny object that we pursue delivers dopamine. Dopamine = pleasure

Serotonin, on the other hand, is a slow burner.  It adds up to the overall happiness we get from a life well-lived that is full of love and fulfillment.  But it requires deferred gratification to get there.  Falling in love at first sight delivers dopamine but after the honeymoon is over, a life devoted to the other, 100% from both parties, delivers serotonin:  contentment, happiness, fulfillment. A life of service, to your children, your spouse, your community are all vehicles to deliver serotonin.

Why are we so sick and so unhappy?  Dr Lustig points an accusing finger at the way industry is there 24/7 to make us want things, stuff.  Short term dopamine hits. "Bet you can't eat just one" kind of pleasure.  The isolating effects of social media and constant cell phone use drive dopamine and suppress serotonin.

Readers find this book so satisfying and so clarifying of something we have always intuitively known. In the end, the reader can't help but "get it".   It all makes sense what has happened to us since Madison Avenue successfully hacked our brains. Round the clock advertising makes us want things we didn't even know existed. It has plunged us into a state of constant wanting and wishing. The complete opposite of contentment.

Here's a direct quote that I think summarizes it well:
"In the last half century, America and most of the Western world have become more and more unhappy, sicker and broke as well.  Marketing, media, and technology have capitalized on subverting our brain physiology to their advantage in order to veer us away from the pursuit of happiness to the pursuit of pleasure, which for them of course equals the pursuit of profit.  Fueling our quest for reward has only contributed to the epidemics of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and dementia, which are eating away at our health, our health care system and the fabric of society."

Without dopamine there would be no motivation.  But without serotonin there would be no reason to live.
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