Do you know the difference between pleasure and happiness?


Do you understand the difference between pleasure and happiness? Can you explain how reward differs from contentment? Robert Lustig certainly can and his latest book, The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science behind the Corporate Takeover of our Bodies and Brains, has something powerful to say about happiness and wellbeing.

About Robert Lustig

Robert Lustig MD is perhaps best known for his bestseller, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease.

These are not minimalist book titles!

Lustig is a professor of paediatrics, as well as being chief science officer of EatREAL, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to reversing childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. His latest work argues that the corporate world has manipulated us specifically to get us to buy junk we don’t need. It’s an argument you may have come across before, but here we are offered the science behind the message.

We have been ‘manipulated’

Lustig argues that business has conflated pleasure with happiness and “with clear-cut intent” to get us to engage with behaviours that result in society feeling, “…fat, sick, stupid, broke, addicted, depressed and most decidedly unhappy.”

Recognise that rush of pleasure when you:

  • bite into something super sweet and delicious?
  • purchase something shiny and new?
  • see a notification on your smartphone?

That rush is one of dopamine, bringing fleeting reward or pleasure, but this is only ever short-lived and ends up with you wanting more. These things are genuinely addictive.

There is another way

By contrast, Lustig argues that the ‘happy chemical’, serotonin, provides longer-term contentment. He explains the difference between the dopamine effect, which creates, “That feels good. I want more.” versus the seratonin effect that brings about a sense of, “That feels good. I have enough.”

As Lustig says, it’s about understanding the difference between chasing fleeting reward and longer-lasting contentment.

How do we achieve this?

With clear scientific evidence to back up his argument, Lustig argues that real contentment is to be found through his 4 C’s, which increase serotonin in the brain to promote well-being. 

They are:

  • Connect
  • Contribute
  • Cope
  • Cook

I’ll use these themes as categories on future blog posts, so be sure to look out for them.

What it means in practice


Actively participate in actual social interactions. Social engagement or emotional bonding correlates with contentment, says Lustig.

Facebook (by way of an example) does not count here. Lustig explains the more people use Facebook, the less “subjective well-being” they experience. Just as a diet of processed food fails to support our well-being, so our daily “digital diet” is also doing us harm.


By contributing to society (perhaps through work, volunteering or other activities), this (again) increases contentment through feelings of self-worth. Ever read stories of people who gave up their Christmas Day to help at a shelter for the homeless? These volunteers’ feelings of well-being can be directly attributed to the feel-good factor associated with contribution.


This is mega important. Sleep better, be more mindful, exercise more. These coping strategies are essential to our well-being.


  • Get your 8 hours
  • Don’t multi-task
  • Be more mindful or intentional in how you approach your day-to-day activities
  • Take exercise


The JERF (Just Eat Real Food) message has been around for a while but Lustig makes a particular case for cooking for ourselves, for our friends and for our families. If we do this, we’ll not only be eating foods that can boost that happy chemical, serotonin, but we’ll also be contributing and connecting as well. And sugar is a no no. Period.

All together now

Taken together, these 4 C’s provide the essential support we need to move away from transient moments of reward (pleasure) to a more contented state (happiness).

As a minimalist, reading this book gave me an insight into why we know – instinctively – that more stuff doesn’t equal more happiness. When it comes to more, it’s more of the 4 C’s we really need.

Lustig’s work is based on solid science; it’s not an easy read, but if you’ve ever battled with overcoming negative habits or been concerned that your time spent on social media isn’t adding to your subjective well-being, this book explains why.

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Give warm greetings and farewells


Each time I finish a book, I find invariably that there’s something that particularly stands out or that resonates with me. There’s that one thing – sometimes just a small notion – that sticks in my mind.

When I read Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, it was McKeown’s exhortation to “Do less, but better!” that stayed with me. Likewise, James Wallman’s Stuffocation left me with this simple but perfect mantra: “Experiences over stuff.”

A ‘sticky’ resolution

So, I wasn’t surprised when I finished Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home and found myself musing over one of her many resolutions. It was this:

“Give warm greetings and farewells.”

In spite of Rubin’s sensible acknowledgement that you can only change yourself, she made an exception when proposing this resolution to her family.

She wanted to ensure that family members felt acknowledged and welcomed when returning home. Further, she wanted these brief but important moments of connection to be extended to saying farewell whenever a family member left for his or her daily trip to work or school or wherever they were going.

How important are these moments of connectedness!

How connected are we really?

We live in a connected world. As of June 2017, Facebook is said to have had 2.01 billion active users; Twitter 328 million and Instagram 600 million. Today’s technology enables us to reach people in myriad ways, whenever we feel like it. Our teenagers are ultra-connected, with an almost constant flow of SnapChat snippets and ‘streaks’ to keep them – and their network – tethered by wifi.

And yet, when our loved ones walk through the door, do we lift our heads from the iPad, put down the virtual pencil or look up from whatever we are doing? Not always. Why? Because we are distracted. We are drowning in busy-ness. We’ll be there in a minute.

This won’t be new, but I suppose we have to disconnect to reconnect.

Who greets you first?

The late, great Nora Ephron wrote:

“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”

Many a true word said in jest….

I once attended a family gathering at which the children of the host acknowledged their grandparents’ arrival with something akin to mild indifference. Witnessing the grandparents’ confusion and hurt made me resolve that, within our own family, we would always ensure that we made our own parents feel truly welcome.

Spark those connections

Reading Rubin’s resolution reminded me of the importance of this daily ritual, as we acknowledge the daily comings and goings of loved ones.

So, now, within our little family of three (plus dog!), we now observe this resolution in our own day-to-day interactions and remind each other, “Warm greetings and farewells!” It really does make a difference.

Do you have a mantra or resolution to help you maintain those family connections? What’s your way of sparking and maintaining a connection with loved ones? Let me know by replying below!


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Join hundreds of others in the Midlands Minimalist Community, receiving unique news and content that’s only available for subscribers. On joining, you’ll get access to all my free content on my Community Resources page.

Receive unique news and content by clicking on the button, below:


Email me via, send me a Tweet (@MidsMinimalist) or connect via Instagram (@MidlandsMinimalist)