This week, I recorded a podcast about chemicals in the brain and how they impact our experience of happiness. There are 4 chemicals (strictly speaking, some are neurotransmitters and others are hormones but rather than spend ages on that side of the explanation, I figure it’s easier to stick with ‘chemicals’) – dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins.
The more I research them, the more I imagine them as levels in a game. Here’s how I picture the levels:
Level 1 – Dopamine – To get a hit, find something novel, tasty or fun. Enjoy. But beware, the hit will wear off fast. Skills required: None.
Level 2 – Serotonin – To get a hit, eat well, sleep well, manage your moods and manage your mindset. Skills required: self-discipline, ability to delay gratification, self-awareness, emotional awareness, patience. Bonus skills: mindfulness and meditation.
Level 3 – Oxytocin – To get a hit, hug someone you love. Skills required: Ability to build strong friendships and intimate relationships.
Level 4 – Endophins – To get a hit, push yourself to the point of discomfort or pain. Skills required: Self-discipline, perseverance, ability to override fear, ability to override or change limiting beliefs.
When you look at them this way (admittedly highly unscientific and with masses of information missing but still), it’s easy to see how things like alcohol, food, sex, technology and a whole host of other things can keep us locked in Level 1, going round and round in loops, hoping to feel happier but never quite getting there.
In order for us to access the other levels, we need good relationships and a whole host of skills. We also need to control our attention so we aren’t constantly distracted by all the enticing things in Level 1.
It’s not easy.