Thanksgiving is the U.S.’s second-favorite holiday, yet it must win the low-stress award compared to our commercialized Christmas, which ranks #1. A day spent with family, expressions of gratitude before a home-cooked meal, and a stroll outside help us slow down and really live. Add dessert and a nap and you have pursued, and most-likely found, happiness.
Contrast this to a mall scene the next day, when Black Friday shoppers elbow for entry to a store, then fight for the buy-of-the-moment. This search and find mode, amped-up by advertising, creates an energized, aggressive and even competitive attitude. When we finally grab that must-have purchase, we are flooded with pleasure, usually short-lived.
Pleasure and happiness are distinct conditions, and are native and needed parts of us, each with its own hormone pathway in the brain. Pleasure ties to accomplished goals, typically sought for both survival and satisfaction. This is driven by the hormone dopamine, which rallies us to run the race, and once we “win“, the pleasure we feel comes from our own brain-made Oxycontin-like happy chemicals.
The trouble is, the buzz of cheap thrills don’t last when divorced from real happiness, which is driven by serotonin in a completely different pathway. We then miss the excitement that the search and find mission gave us, so we repeat the cycle. Even bigger trouble is, when a hormone hangs around too long, cells no longer respond to it as well, less happy chemicals are made and another “toy” must be sought. This tolerance and addiction cycle is our pathway to misery.
Dr. Robert Lustig, M.D. details these ideas in The Hacking of the American Mind, and shows how corporate marketers purposely confuse pleasure and happiness and target the seek/find/tolerance/addiction path to cause us to “need” and consume more of what they are selling. He describes an elegant and easy road out, and, as high-tech science is showing more and more, low tech lifestyle additions are the answer. He calls these the 4 C’s:
Connect (with friends, family, even strangers with “social snacking”);
Contribute (serve, volunteer, give);
Cope (meditate, pray, move, turn your phone off); and
Cook (real food from scratch.)