These are sad times. Rich countries are suffering an alarming growth in addiction, anxiety and depression. In this post I explore why, and offer a few ideas about what to do next.
In the UK, where antidepressant prescriptions have more than doubled in the past decade. And we suffer almost a third of Europe’s drug overdoses. All manner of individual factors are behind this sad trend, but in my opinion the root cause is that people’s sense of well-being is being undermined by their incessant quest for pleasure. Modern life offers endless opportunities for people to enjoy little fixes of dopamine, the reward neurotransmitter that tells the brain: this feels good, I want more. This is thanks to the ubiquity of triggers such as:
- video games,
- social media, or
Each of these things gives us pleasure, at least temporarily, and so they are reliable ways to find a moment’s happiness. We might not be able to control our partners or children or co-workers or even our jobs, but we can control these things. If we want to eat, we usually can. If we want to smoke pot or have a beer, we usually can. Of course, these things only give temporary pleasure, and so when we aren’t partaking of them, we become sad, as we want them. We are not happy, because our happiness depends on whether we’re using these things or not. And so we go back for more, and so on.
Yet the evidence suggests that all this dopamine, particularly when combined with stress, drives down levels of serotonin, the contentment or happiness neurotransmitter that tells our brain: this feels good. Popular culture tells us that pleasure and happiness are the same things. It’s not true: chasing the former restricts our ability to enjoy the latter. The trick here is that you need to ‘notice yourself’ as you seek these forms of pleasure. Notice what happens when you don’t have them, and how you become happy or sad depending on what’s going on externally.
To find out where else we can go for happiness, we have to look at what might be more constant — external sources of happiness aren’t constant, and will be available some times and not available other times.
So what’s more constant? Life. You. Change. (Actually these are all the same thing.) Learn how to find the power of these in every moment, and how this one skill will change everything. Moreover, being happy or sad shouldn’t be something that happens to us in the future, maybe someday, if things go well or not. Happiness should be here and now, who we are now, with the people we’re with now, doing the things we’re doing now. And if we’re not with people who make us happy, and doing things that make us happy … then we should take action to make that happen.
What do you think? Why not leave a comment below?
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