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.
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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