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Book: Meet your happy chemicals

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Book: Meet your happy chemicals
Answer
12/8/13 12:13 PM
Meet your happy chemicals - Loretta Breuning

This book looks at the chemicals that animate a lot of our motivations and summarizes quite nicely what we need to know and would probably be a better place for most people to view how their brain works than the "The Human Amygdala" book which is more about the structure and how it works biologically. So this will be a simple guide but should be effective enough. If one adds this to meditation they might actually be able to notice the sensations in their body when the chemicals cascade. Yes they are impermanent but healthy doses are important and one doesn't need to enjoy them in excess because we all know that brings on stress chemicals.

Four happy chemicals:

Dopamine - the joy of finding what you seek
Endorphin - the oblivion that masks pain
Oxytocin - the safety of social bonds
Serotonin - the security of social dominance

Survival motives:

Dopamine - keep seeking rewards
Endorphin - ignore physical pain
Oxytocin - build social alliances
Serotonin - get respect from others

Dopamine:

  • Evidence of a reward triggers dopamine, which motivates your body to invest its energy.
  • Dopamine gets people (including our ancestors) to create new things and search for new rewards. Eg. Making better technology, social rewards, material rewards, relief of a bad feeling.


Endorphin:

  • Physical pain triggers endorphin.
  • It promotes survival to allow mammals to reach safety.
  • In exercise you can get a high but you need to push yourself beyond your limits to get there which can be damaging if you take it too far.
  • Laughing and crying both produce endorphin.
  • Exercise differently so you don't overuse certain parts of your body and you will gain more endorphins.


Oxytocin:

  • When you have a good feeling about someone, oxytocin causes it. When you feel you can trust a person, or you enjoy their trust in you, oxytocin is flowing. The feeling of belonging, and of safety in numbers, is oxytocin too.
  • Touch triggers oxytocin and can be seen in primates with their grooming practices.
  • Oxytocin motivates social grooming and that promotes survival.
  • You can notice it as a warm and fuzzy feeling.
  • Work on building trust in small agreements with people to improve oxytocin.


Serotonin:

  • Getting respect feels good because it triggers serotonin. The good feeling motivates you to seek more respect, and that promotes survival. You may say you don't care about getting respect, but you can easily see this dynamic in others. In the animal world, getting respect clearly promotes an individual's DNA. They're not thinking about genes, of course. Mammals seek social dominance because serotonin makes it feel good.
  • All living creatures have serotonin, even amoeba.
  • In mammals, serotonin is the good feeling of having secure access to food or other resources.
  • Social dominance is the calm, secure feeling that your needs will be met.
  • Nice people, don't talk about the competition for resources in nature. In polite society, it's forbidden to acknowledge that social dominance feels good. But everyone has a brain that longs for the good feeling of serotonin. Everyone can see this motivation in others. You don't have to push your way to the top, you just need to feel that the resources you need to survive are secure.
  • You may get annoyed when you see others trying to secure their position. But when you do it, you think, "I'm just trying to survive."
  • How we feel in social dominance has a lot to do with our expectations and perceptions.
  • We tell ourselves status doesn't matter and everyone is equal, but each brain keeps track of how it stacks up against others. Expectations build from experience, making people sensitive to slights. Happy chemicals flow when our expectations are exceeded. When our expectations are disappointed, we perceive it as a threat.
  • Everyone wants to be special. When you see others being special, you say you want equality. When someone gets ahead of you, your cortisol starts flowing. It's easy to see this in others, especially those you dislike. It's hard to see it in yourself, but the universality of this urge is apparent when you know how animals strive to be special.
  • Build pride in something you've done once a day. This can avoid extremes of constant approval seeking or dejected cynicism.
  • When mammals gather, they try to dominate each other. There is frustration in both the dominant and subordinate positions.
  • The dominant position is the "hot seat" and the responsibilities can create worry.
  • Being subordinate relieves you of the "hot seat" but can be a problem when dominant people make decisions on your behalf.
  • Try and enjoy the positive side you are on depending on which status you have because it can change throughout your life.
  • Take quiet satisfaction on the subtle influence you have on the world.
  • Find ways to leave a legacy even if it's small.


Cortisol:

  • Stress gets your brain to pay attention so you can get ready to avoid more pain and to remember never to repeat past decisions that cause pain.
  • When there are no physical threats the brain focuses on social threats.
  • The slightest hint of old familiar pain will trigger cortisol.
  • It helps you scan for threats.
  • Empathy comes from mirror neurons making us literally feel other people's pain. Social groups build a shared sense of threat.
  • If you fail to empathize with shared pain, your social bonds are likely to be threatened. Your group-mates may start perceiving you as a threat.
  • Each brain builds expectations from the information it is fed. If you feed your brain a lot of inputs about suffering, you will build circuits good at finding more suffering. The world will look very bad to you. Your good intentions will leave you with a lot of cortisol.


Habits:

  • Repetition is required for mylinated circuits to be created to make fast moving habits.
  • Neurons atrophy from a lack of experience.
  • Synapses develop from repetition and emotion. Emotions develop a synapse quickly, while repetition develops them slowly.
  • Repetition can develop a synapse without neurochemicals, but it takes longer. When a synapse is activated many times, it gradually becomes efficient at transmitting an electrochemical signal.
  • Neurons literally reach out to each other when they are stimulated at the same time. Eg. People who like politics connect everything with politics. A religious person connects everything to their beliefs. This is why truth will look different to people with different specialties.
  • The pre-frontal cortex can inhibit an action allowing more free choice.
  • Attention is limited and the more you invest in one place, you have less for other things.
  • Habits help alleviate the need for constant attention.
  • 45 days is a good guideline for repeating a behaviour to develop it into a new habit.
  • Celebrating small steps triggers more dopamine than saving it all up for one big achievement.
  • Even 10 minutes a day of working on your new behaviour will be enough to see your goals in a realistic light.
  • Divide an unpleasant task into small parts.
  • Keep adjusting your bar for goals. Dopamine will result when the challenge or goal is not too easy or too hard.
  • Building new circuits is hard because it feels wrong when you're doing it right. Old circuits give you the feeling of knowing what's going on, so abandoning them for a weak and unproven circuit feels like a survival threat. Once the new circuit is established you feel great.
  • We are better at some chemicals than others so your brain will benefit from gaining chemicals it isn't good at achieving.
  • Graft different ways of using the chemicals you are used to using by including new activities to ones you already are good at.
  • Find ways to make learning fun and you will persist long enough for repetition to do it's work.
  • Plan a new circuit before you need it. Expose yourself to new music before your current faves bore you. Before you retire develop new sources of pride.
  • Frustration grows if you think of life as an optimization function with one correct solution. Look at life as a series of tradeoffs that you have to accept.


There's more in the book on ways people choose to be unhappy and ways to choose to be happy but I'm sure meditators can figure out that you have to keep at it for whatever it is you want to improve for major changes to materialize.

RE: Book: Meet your happy chemicals
Answer
12/8/13 3:11 PM as a reply to Richard Zen.
thank you very much. i really appreciate your book summaries.

RE: Book: Meet your happy chemicals
Answer
12/8/13 5:44 PM as a reply to A G.
Thanks.

This was a really important one for me:

Building new circuits is hard because it feels wrong when you're doing it right. Old circuits give you the feeling of knowing what's going on, so abandoning them for a weak and unproven circuit feels like a survival threat. Once the new circuit is established you feel great.

RE: Book: Meet your happy chemicals
Answer
12/8/13 8:31 PM as a reply to Richard Zen.
Thanks RZ. Useful summary. I like her honesty. Best new material I've seen in ages. "Nothing is wrong with us. We are mammals", she says.

http://www.innermammalinstitute.org

RE: Book: Meet your happy chemicals
Answer
12/10/13 9:06 PM as a reply to Richard Zen.
very nice!

next question: obviously many social institutions and groups instinctively incorporate lots of that into how they work, but in what ways do we as meditators and as a loose comminuty fail to appreciate those points?

RE: Book: Meet your happy chemicals
Answer
12/10/13 9:37 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel M. Ingram:
very nice!

next question: obviously many social institutions and groups instinctively incorporate lots of that into how they work, but in what ways do we as meditators and as a loose comminuty fail to appreciate those points?


In every way, I'd say.

“If you wish to be a success in this life you must first be a good animal". Recognize and accept fully that we need validation, status, relationship, and so on.

It's easy to watch any news channel and come away thinking that human nature (ego) is revolting, repulsive, hideous, hateful, manipulative, competitive, controlling and so on. But there's also another side, the positive side. Perhaps human nature is just what it is and doesn't need to be judged good or bad? Nature made us this way. We can strive for freedom if we want.

RE: Book: Meet your happy chemicals
Answer
12/10/13 10:43 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Well this is a good question and what I've been chewing on for the past few days. Serotonin was a big eye opener. All the work politics and how envy works is becoming crystal clear. Envy = self-referencing + low serotonin + higher cortisol. A lot of stress is gone because my expectations and demands of other people are now more realistic. At work now I'm wondering how I'm affecting serotonin levels in people. Some of it is not even my fault. Just being a new kid on the block will lower co-worker's serotonin levels and increase their cortisol (perceiving a threat). Since I do lots of temporary assignments I get the same reactions every time I'm the new guy. I also notice the longer I stay at an assignment there's already people looking at me as a rival and I sometimes imagine them being defeated by me which requires some vipassana work. Those situations remind me of this LOL!:

Kangaroo Kickboxing

Most office Christmas parties include all workers (temporary or permanent) but in this latest assignment only permanent workers were allowed and one lady talked about it as "only the important people" as she laughed. SEROTONIN STRIKES AGAIN! Knowing this means I feel less slighted because I know what needs are being fed.

When I disagree with people needlessly (even if I'm right), I see their faces contort but I have an attitude that they should think differently when what they really they want is oxytocin. So many missed opportunities! emoticon I remember on a first day of work at an assignment and I was serious looking, trying to get things done right and a co-worker was pointing out how serious looking I was and she was projecting prior bad workers behaviours on me in the same job I was in. I faked a smile the rest of the day and it worked. I also talked with people more and joked (endorphins) and they eased their tension.

Even when I went for lunch on my first day this one guy thought I was quickly quitting because the boss was a reactive type of woman and tired of training people and I was going to walk out in a huff and puff but I just wanted some sushi. We are network contacts now. This was when equanimity was important. I didn't argue for petty reasons and only discussed things instead of demanded. By the end of the assignment another worker congratulated my survival of this woman (who probably got the other people shit-canned who argued more). The common complaints of the prior workers were stubbornness when proven wrong. When I was wrong about something I just admitted it and moved on.

Another example recently was a woman in the cubicle in front of me. She was under a deadline and the boss was hovering but trying to be nice "is everything okay?" "do you need some help"? He would come back every 5 minutes. Obviously her cortisol was increased.

Basically I have to do the following to improve my social skills at work:

  • When in a new job I have to pretend to like the same things that co-workers like [Oxytocin for them].
  • I need to ask them their opinion on things more, even if they are tools and their opinion is useless [Serotonin for them].
  • I need to mirror pain, even if they are whiny wankers. [Endorphins for them (and me?)]
  • I still need to compete and try to dominate more which is very risky and hard to maintain. [Cortisol for them and Serotonin for me or vice versa if I fail]
  • I need to befriend more powerful people so I get some backup. [Serotonin for them and me. Possibly oxytocin too] This fits in with Plato's maxim "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors". I find a lot of successful people at work are a tag-team and start manipulating the people who have less connections. I had a head-hunter call me a "lone wolf". Well, with more equanimity that gets easier and easier which makes me an easy isolated target.


The problem with equanimity is that I'm not mirroring enough pain with other people and I can definitely see that it's a mistake I make time and time again. The equanimity is so strong that when people complain about minor things they see in my body language that I don't care and think they are whiners. They immediately dislike me or find me snobbish. That's going to be one hard habit to break now.

It may sound cynical but people react better to this stuff than logic and making sound sense.

RE: Book: Meet your happy chemicals
Answer
12/11/13 6:36 AM as a reply to Richard Zen.
Fuck. No way will I be ruled by something so primitive, crude, archaic and mindless.

Looks like benign megalomania is the only way out.... ;-)

RE: Book: Meet your happy chemicals
Answer
12/11/13 7:36 AM as a reply to This Good Self.
C C C:
Daniel M. Ingram:
very nice!

next question: obviously many social institutions and groups instinctively incorporate lots of that into how they work, but in what ways do we as meditators and as a loose comminuty fail to appreciate those points?


In every way, I'd say.

“If you wish to be a success in this life you must first be a good animal". Recognize and accept fully that we need validation, status, relationship, and so on.

It's easy to watch any news channel and come away thinking that human nature (ego) is revolting, repulsive, hideous, hateful, manipulative, competitive, controlling and so on. But there's also another side, the positive side. Perhaps human nature is just what it is and doesn't need to be judged good or bad? Nature made us this way. We can strive for freedom if we want.


Since we have a lot of wealth compared to cave dwellers of the past we need to control how we gain these chemicals because a lot of our needs are already met. If there isn't any morality it basically is a corrupt addiction. If we desire proper things then it's a huge source of happiness and success. It's not that there is desire but WHAT we desire. To direct desire towards valuable things and ethical things is skillful.

As the book points out we need to be pursuing this stuff in an ethical way. Since many people will do the WORST behaviour to gain these chemicals it's incumbent upon us to mix truth with virtue. It's okay to upset someone's serotonin uptake if it betters mankind.

For those who really want to wean themselves off these chemicals and leave the main society then they know exactly what to do and where their typical needs come from. Spend less money so you don't need to earn as much. By doing this you will be less of a target out there. You pretty much can't have kids without getting a good enough income to house/feed/clothe and educate them.

I would also recommend for those who can do this, to start their own business. Serotonin and Oxytocin can be used by employees to create cronyism and nepotism to suck money and efficiency from organizations. I've seen this first hand. As a business owner you can treat people fairly and prevent manipulative narcissists from taking over by firing their asses or not hire them in the first place. You can also devote time to training worthy people. People can show compassion by giving charity but there's no greater compassion than mentoring people to self-sufficiency. When you are the business owner you get more respect but you can install good values into the organization and actually purposefully follow labour laws and punish bullying. If you're on the fringe of society you can' t really influence as much.

Big Nothing:
Fuck. No way will I be ruled by something so primitive, crude, archaic and mindless.

Looks like benign megalomania is the only way out.... ;-)


At least you know what you're dealing with. Now you can anticipate how people will react to you instead of being clueless.

RE: Book: Meet your happy chemicals
Answer
12/11/13 8:20 AM as a reply to Big Nothing.
Big Nothing:
Fuck. No way will I be ruled by something so primitive, crude, archaic and mindless.

Looks like benign megalomania is the only way out.... ;-)
???

MoonPhoenixEatingFireBathingEarthDragon///heat rising...

RE: Book: Meet your happy chemicals
Answer
12/14/13 5:37 AM as a reply to Richard Zen.
If, for example, you replace the word "serotonin" with the phrase "pleasure associated with exercising power or control", or the word "cortisol" with "feeling of stress" then what do you lose? And what do you gain in the level of explanation you are using by thinking these states arise from a specific neurostransmitter?

RE: Book: Meet your happy chemicals
Answer
12/14/13 6:54 AM as a reply to sawfoot _.
sawfoot _:
If, for example, you replace the word "serotonin" with the phrase "pleasure associated with exercising power or control", or the word "cortisol" with "feeling of stress" then what do you lose? And what do you gain in the level of explanation you are using by thinking these states arise from a specific neurostransmitter?
hey SawsAll;
never hurts to learn one more monkey language.

For instance; MoonPhonenixEatingFireBathingEarthDragon sounds WAy CooLer than Terrestrial Eclipse of the Moon.

- 3bird

RE: Book: Meet your happy chemicals
Answer
12/14/13 10:44 AM as a reply to sawfoot _.
For me you lose the predictive power of motivation. By focusing on the neurotransmitters it demystifies the process. I like to observe body language and to know how people react, and it can adjust my communication with people knowing that I can cause unpleasant or pleasant sensations in people in an instant. It makes you more careful and how you choose your words. "When mammals get together they try to dominate each other". Human interactions are very political and my usual way is to be logical and challenge beliefs and try to be accurate. That is good in certain situations but there are situations where it's not skillful to be right but skillful to shut-up. I can keep score over my interactions and try to improve them. You can read the facial expressions and realize there's some tension there and knowing that a person had a stressful cortisol moment because you didn't meet their expectations or whatever you said, it creates a confidence that's already improved things for me.

At work many people follow sports and I don't as much and I could see how struggling to add to the conversation would get looks of their superiority and also a slight denigration for not keeping up with them. When they talk behind the backs of other people in the office I know that they are doing the same to me.

I have at work recently seen areas in which I have greatly improved my accuracy and speed and other areas where I haven't and when I repeatedly missed a deadline by an hour I could notice the comments from the boss "again he's not finished". I could see the expectation and disappointment in her voice and your dismissive body language. People become objects that either feed their chemicals in an addictive way or they don't. I looked at my work and yes I fell short. But that's all it was. Performance does not = self-worth. Performance simply = performance.

The key is that I didn't blame a "self" but just look at it as animals looking for their chemicals they repeatedly look for. It also starkly puts into relief what skills are necessary in communication with a variety of people. I often get feedback that I'm a good communicator but I also get feedback that I'm a bad "back-scratcher" communicator. I loathe political correctness but you have to deal with that in the workplace whether you care to or not. I'm also very independent and introverted. I can talk with people quite easily but I don't feel a need for connection as much as some do and I can now see so many missed opportunities and I can also see bullshit reactions and manipulations from people on how they project expectations on you and by demystifying what goes on, one can be independent of them and not take them seriously.

I remember when this same boss came to work for the first time and the head-hunter was visiting the site and her assessment of my new boss was also skeptical looking. The head-hunters are looking for their fees and judging her in turn.

When I get back to work I can already anticipate that I will imagine being other people and pretend to think about me. I'll even imagine standing where they are standing and imagine them looking at me and trying to think about how they are judging/objectifying/comparing me to others. They have their security needs and do I supply them with what they want?

This is so freeing to me. Politics was a jumble of a mess but now I can clearly see the spaghetti strands for what they are as cause and effect.

RE: Book: Meet your happy chemicals
Answer
12/15/13 8:03 AM as a reply to Richard Zen.
Thank you for taking the time to summarize this book!
Two things come to mind:

1. Another book which touches on the subject of neurotransmitters is Buddha's brain

2. serotonin is a neurotransmitter, suspected of causing some kinds of depression. Anti depressants called SSRI's force serotonin to stay in the system, because some people already have not enough serotonin to begin with. In severe forms of the 'winter blues' people crave sweet stuff and carbohydrates, because these are used to make serotonin and the body instinctively starts piling up the pounds carbohydrates in a desperate attempt to solve the problem... Also, there is too much melatonin floating in the system (making you very sleepy, not great when it's day time), which partly disappears with sunlight or light therapy (for instance the lights I have attached to the ceiling, with a timer, making me wake up in a sea of light). It probably is more complicated than that, but it helps to see that these neurotransmitters are actually very interesting, influencing us in unexpected ways and you can tweak them (to a certain extend).
As for animals. Uni colored Cocker Spaniels are known to (very) occasionally suffer from rage syndrom, which is believed to be linked to low levels of dopamin and serotonin.

RE: Book: Meet your happy chemicals
Answer
3/30/14 4:41 PM as a reply to Richard Zen.
Thanks for this, I really needed it. Its interesting that meditation and certain drugs can promote an "un-natural" state of serotonin abundance that cuts away the need for social dominance, or at least softens the need to be at the top of the pack. This could be the neuro chemical formula for the "Temporary Autonomous Zone" that springs up at a really good rave, or any gathering where normal dominance relations are superseded by what the early Christians called "agape".

RE: Book: Meet your happy chemicals
Answer
3/31/14 6:24 AM as a reply to Richard Zen.
Great post Richard. It has inspired me to create an account and get involved in some of the dicussions here on DhO.

I think this knowledge is particulary useful in understanding how we change habbits in behaviour or psychology. I always understood this difficulty in change as the "homeo-stasis effect" whereby any interruption of our normal functioning creates discomfort. We then have to power through that discomfort until the new habbit becomes normal.

Thinking of this in terms of our neurotransmitters makes much more sense. The changed behaviour creating a survival threat to produce cortisol which in turn will fire off all the associations that come with the feeling of stress: "why am I doing this? People don't change" etc. This pulls us back to our old habbits and reassurance when seretonin floods in.

There is useful information here depending on how we apply it but I don't think I will start looking at everyone as walking chemical junkies emoticon

RE: Book: Meet your happy chemicals
Answer
3/31/14 8:33 AM as a reply to Hazard J Gibbons.
That's a good point. People want to relax and momentarily they can let go, though I'm sure there's a pecking order involved even in raves. "Who's the most cool and desirable?"

What I find interesting is the conflict that can occur between chemicals. While pursuing serotonin if you're not careful you won't get oxytocin. If you're a domineering type in life you might crave oxytocin when you're in the hospital. emoticon

There's lots of room for hypocrisy.

Also being human means we know we are going to die. Contemplating death means you can view these chemicals differently.

When I die I cannot pursue serotonin and all people equally have to die. When I die I let go of all social bonds permanently. When I die consciousness of pain ends. When I die there is an end of goal seeking.

Paying attention to the above really puts things into perspective.

RE: Book: Meet your happy chemicals
Answer
7/5/14 1:13 PM as a reply to Richard Zen.


Basically I have to do the following to improve my social skills at work:

  • When in a new job I have to pretend to like the same things that co-workers like [Oxytocin for them].
  • I need to ask them their opinion on things more, even if they are tools and their opinion is useless [Serotonin for them].
  • I need to mirror pain, even if they are whiny wankers. [Endorphins for them (and me?)]
  • I still need to compete and try to dominate more which is very risky and hard to maintain. [Cortisol for them and Serotonin for me or vice versa if I fail]
  • I need to befriend more powerful people so I get some backup. [Serotonin for them and me. Possibly oxytocin too] This fits in with Plato's maxim "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors". I find a lot of successful people at work are a tag-team and start manipulating the people who have less connections. I had a head-hunter call me a "lone wolf". Well, with more equanimity that gets easier and easier which makes me an easy isolated target.

Or you could try it like this, look for interesting things in people and show that interest, not just the powerful but everyone.  Even if they suck at work, they will have some interesting knowledge somewhere or some great skill, maybe kindness, a great chili recipe or whatever and there is probably at least one area of work where they ARE good.  Find the interesting things in them and show that interest to them.  Almost everyone will like you if you show interest and appreciation.  It's a great exercise in empathy and it helps a lot at work too.  But I don't think it works nearly so well if you are just acting.  They can sense that.  Some will respond anyway but it won't be as strong and there will be an icky feeling to it because it's not truthful and it will be hard to keep up and it just won't work nearly as well. 

RE: Book: Meet your happy chemicals
Answer
7/5/14 3:03 PM as a reply to Eva Nie.
Eva M Nie:


Basically I have to do the following to improve my social skills at work:

  • When in a new job I have to pretend to like the same things that co-workers like [Oxytocin for them].
  • I need to ask them their opinion on things more, even if they are tools and their opinion is useless [Serotonin for them].
  • I need to mirror pain, even if they are whiny wankers. [Endorphins for them (and me?)]
  • I still need to compete and try to dominate more which is very risky and hard to maintain. [Cortisol for them and Serotonin for me or vice versa if I fail]
  • I need to befriend more powerful people so I get some backup. [Serotonin for them and me. Possibly oxytocin too] This fits in with Plato's maxim "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors". I find a lot of successful people at work are a tag-team and start manipulating the people who have less connections. I had a head-hunter call me a "lone wolf". Well, with more equanimity that gets easier and easier which makes me an easy isolated target.

Or you could try it like this, look for interesting things in people and show that interest, not just the powerful but everyone.  Even if they suck at work, they will have some interesting knowledge somewhere or some great skill, maybe kindness, a great chili recipe or whatever and there is probably at least one area of work where they ARE good.  Find the interesting things in them and show that interest to them.  Almost everyone will like you if you show interest and appreciation.  It's a great exercise in empathy and it helps a lot at work too.  But I don't think it works nearly so well if you are just acting.  They can sense that.  Some will respond anyway but it won't be as strong and there will be an icky feeling to it because it's not truthful and it will be hard to keep up and it just won't work nearly as well. 

Thanks for the tip!