March 30, 2018

Bags of sugar move along a mechanical belt. Credit: Ramon Espinosa / AP Images

In the last few decades, Americans have become fat, sick, stupid, broke, depressed, addicted, and most decidedly unhappy. At least, that’s according to physician Robert Lustig, author of the book The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains. He says that we’re facing four big crises in our country: a health care crisis, a social security crisis, an opioid crisis, and a depression crisis. And he argues that while these crises might seem different, they’re really all about the confusion of pleasure with happiness.  

Three Takeaways

  • Lustig says that pleasure is short-lived, selfish, and can be achieved with substances whereas happiness is the opposite. Most importantly though, Lustig believes that pleasure is based on dopamine and happiness is based on serotonin, two entirely different brain chemicals. 
  • Lustig argues that constantly searching for pleasure actually leads to greater and greater unhappiness. People build up a tolerance for repeated dopamine hits. And since dopamine is released when we consume or engage in some not-so-great-for-us things like sugar, alcohol, drugs, and addictive behavior, that’s an issue. 
  • Corporations have exploited our desire for dopamine, according to Lustig. Whether that’s adding sugar into our food, or making apps addictive, Lustig thinks that businesses are essentially “hacking our brains.”

More reading

Robert Lustig, Body & Mind, corporations, sugar

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