Happiness Part Four: How To Avoid The Hedonic Treadmill And Why Hedonism Is A Great Thing.
Why Hedonism is a Great Thing…
A little surprised?
You shouldn’t be. You see, everyone uses hedonism wrong. That’s correct, nobody actually knows the real definition of hedonism.
Hedonism is not mindless self indulgence, and yet most people use it that way. No, that’s called gluttony. In the sexual realm it would be libertinism.
Here’s another shocker, hedonism takes a lot of discipline. Yes, that’s right, you have to have a lot of mindfulness and resiliency to be properly hedonistic.
“You’re not serious, right?”
If I’m lying, I’m dying, because a great deal of my life has been devoted to learning how to be a good hedonist. Don’t get it confused, that doesn’t mean I throw grilled cheese sandwiches down my throat all day long, ruthlessly run through women like sticks of gum or indulge in every drug known to man with reckless abandon.
You know why?
Despite all the temporary highs you feel, the lows are awful. Consistent happiness is the best goal for most of us, including me. What is the definition of hedonism?
The idea that pleasure or happiness is the highest good in life. That’s paraphrased slightly from Merriam-Webster.
Or, take this version from Dictionary.com
“Devotion to pleasure as a way of life.”
Sound like gluttony? It’s tempting to say that, but it’s not. The word itself has gotten a bad rap in our current social environment. When you say someone is a hedonist, you think of an out of control, reckless human being who destroy’s everything in his path,
That’s not what it’s all about. True hedonism requires restraint and targeted indulgence, because you can not feel consistent pleasure or consistent empowerment with mindless indulgence.
It’s actually two-fold. Let’s start with the most obvious,
- Feeling Pleasure- The ability to feel pleasure correlates to the sensitivity of certain neurotransmitters in your brain. Namely, you have dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin as the big three. Adrenaline and norepinephrine can also give pleasure; although, they drive you to act under stress. They are the “fight or flight,” neurotransmitters. This means that consistent physical, emotional and mental pleasure depends on being sensitive to the big three neurotransmitters.
- Feeling Empowered- Yes, the other necessary side of true happiness. Pure fun doesn’t leave any time or energy left for achievement. It leaves no room for purposeful asceticism or overcoming of adversity. Those things are NECCESARY, not optional, for a maximally happy life. I’ve never been truly happy when I wasn’t working hard to overcome some struggle. Likewise, the happiest periods of my life involved stress, a high work-load and some uncertainty.
Here’s a bit more detail.
The Pitfalls Of Pleasure.
Pleasure isn’t just pleasure, as it turns out. You see, pleasure is relative to your ability to experience it.
Your own pleasures are determined by how pleasurable it feels to you. What is intensely pleasurable for one may not be for another.
Your brain releases a certain amount of dopamine or serotonin for most activities that feel good. That’s everything from feeling the sunlight on your face, to getting a nice cool drink of water to talking to that cutie in your classroom.
Those are all natural rewards that your brain goes toward. This means that anything which correlates to surviving and thriving: such as sex, food, water, shelter, community, power, prestige, possessions, words of endearment and anything else related to this releases dopamine.
Dopamine directs you toward those things it believes will be rewarding. In this way, it is not actually released as the reward chemical itself. Rather, it builds up anticipation and excitement for those activities, people and experiences that are generally pleasurable.
Molecules of dopamine act as communicators that relay messages between the synapses (spaces) between neurons in the brain. In order to feel the effects of dopamine fully, you have to have healthy, sensitive receptors.
Cool, but there’s a big problem.
Many people don’t have healthy or sensitive dopamine levels. There’s one primary reason for this. They’ve “fried,” many of the receptors that receive signals from the dopamine molecules. That means the strength of the message they receive is less than it would be otherwise.
You see, certain activities and forms of stimulation release FAR more dopamine than others. A quick conversation with a friend releases a moderate amount, a drink of water if you’re not thirty, only a little, sex with a woman whom you’ve lusted after for awhile release A LOT of dopamine.
Even the dream hottie scenario would be fine, but this is the modern age where we have a little something called internet porn. Internet porn allows a cheap, fast and endlessly novel barrage of every sexual scenario you could ever imagine right at your fingertips.
This constant arousal due to high volume scenes with literally hundreds to thousands of different people doing different things is completely unnatural.
Even alpha male gorilla’s didn’t get the type of action your brain is tricked into thinking it’s getting.
How do I know?
Well, unfortunately, I’ve been there. I’ve had days at a time, where basically all I did was masturbate to internet pornography. There’s no need to get into the nitty, gritty details of exactly what that looks like (not pretty, that’s for sure).
Here’s the takeaway, the dopamine release from constant internet pornography was so overwhelming that it became all I wanted to do. Nothing else in life compared to the thrill of looking for a new, novel scene.
My dopamine receptors became more insensitive. I know this, because the more natural rewards like talking to other girls didn’t seem very appealing.
Actually getting off my ass and making something of myself didn’t matter. No, as long as I had my laptop and endless digital fantasy, it was good enough for me.
That is a personal example I’m familiar with, but countless examples abound. Many of you have known drug addicts, and so have I.
The way a drug addict romantically self-destructs is something you never forget. At the least, the way they escape into their precious numbing agent says it all. It can cost them everything; yet, it’s all they care about.
I personally saw someone close to me do this with weed.
Weed addiction isn’t very common, but this was an undeniable exception. This person HAD to smoke it virtually every day. Worse yet, He knew he had a problem, but it took years before he came to terms with it.
There were other issues in his life that were obvious. Social anxiety and generalized depression plagued him.
The cycle was endless. I’m sure he often thought about improving his habits, and finding a way out of addiction. But just like me with the porn, lighting up was the only thing he had enough desire to do. Everything else more healthy and sustainable seemed flat to him.
Instead of finding another way, he just used weed as his crutch, all the while frying his dopamine sensitivity even further.
People say you can’t get addicted to either porn or weed. That’s bullshit on both counts. You can get addicted to anything which has a sharp enough dopamine spike.
Why else do people become compulsive shoppers (for clothes they don’t need) or compulsive kleptomaniacs?
Because there is a rush of dopamine in the activity that’s great enough to induce dependency.
Dependency is addiction, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter if the mechanism in the brain isn’t quite the same.
Addicted to rush of dopamine from activity= addiction, period.
So as you can see, managing dopamine release is CRITICALLY important.
Am I saying you can’t ever smoke weed or look at an explicit video?
It all depends on the way you use it. If it only means a small vice from time to time, you’re fine.
But do you need it every single week, twice a week, every single day?
You gotta problem, buddy. In those cases, you owe it to yourself to stop it completely. Don’t ever do it again, because your brain has a permanent fixation to it.
It’s okay though. You simply need strategies and ways to get yourself out of the hole.
If you’re already out, or you were never there in the first place, you need strategies to navigate the many pitfalls of endless indulgence.
That’s what I’m here for. The friendly friend who wants you to enjoy life, all the time.
Not just when you’re in the throes of a chemical dungeon. So, with some of that negativity out of the way. Here are eight ways to manage dopamine with a short explanation.
- Avoid super processed and ultra decadent food (most of the time)- A burger or fries here and there is fine. An occasional milkshake is cool. litres of cola every day? Stop in the name of your waste line and your sanity.
- Don’t drink calories- Water, tea and coffee 90% of the time. An alcoholic beverage or soda is fine, in moderation. Don’t make it a regular habit.
- Take key vitamins- Vitamin D3, Magnesium (citrate, not oxide or sulfate), Omega-3’s in fish oil are the big three. Other useful vitamins include: NAC, Vitamins B-6 and B-12, and vitamin K2 are other good choices as well.
- Avoid excessive masturbation and pornography- Masturbation isn’t unhealthy, but an excessive amount is very taxing on the nervous system and also overloads the reward system a bit. Pornography is especially dangerous in this regard. Avoid completely if you are prone to overusing anything. Keep it to once a month (yes, a month) if you’re not.
- Regularly fantasize about a cool lifestyle you are moving toward- Also, have goals you think about everyday. This kind of fantasizing produces a healthy dose of dopamine on demand. Try it today.
- Exercise intensely on a regular basis- That means enough exercise that your body gets used to the process without becoming injured or burned out. 3x a week to 4x a week has become the standard for a reason, it works. Do resistance training and cardio.
- Get regular physical exercise through movement- This means don’t stay still too long. Also, quit sitting all day if you can. If not, get up frequently and move around a bit. Find times to take walks, work in the garden, take the stairs etc.
- Regular social interaction- Make it a point to have both regular social interaction with loved ones (GF, BF, family, friends) and acquaintances and strangers. You may be an introvert, and so this is not natural. Start with only a tiny bit more than you do now and work up slowly.
I’ve found those are the most basic ways to ensure that you get both a healthy amount of dopamine, and that your receptors are fresh enough so you feel good when you do these things.
Again, there is some individual experimentation required. For example, an honorable mention for me is music. I have to have some amount of music in my life to remain happy (addicted, hmmm?).
It’s true though. If I don’t focus properly, my creativity is off, and I don’t socialize well if I go too long without listening to music. Music is a very pleasurable activity in and of itself, and it definitely hits all the dopamine receptors.
Take time to explore all different types of hobbies and see what seems to make you feel good.
For example, I had no idea that I loved House music and Reggaeton, but I do. The high energy vibes always make me feel better.
Again, you never know what makes you tick until you try it. So don’t be afraid to experiment!
But what about dopamine’s chill cousin serotonin. Don’t worry, papa bird’s gonna feed ya.
Now, here are five ways that help manage your serotonin levels:
- Sunlight- It’s obvious, but so is everything that’s effective. There’s a reason Seattle produced grunge bands. You don’t feel as calm and collected when you lack sunlight. Seasonal Depressive Disorder is a huge issue many of you suffer from. I did too, until I discovered supplementing with vitamin d3. That helps, but to get the full gooey serotonin effect, you have to get sunlight, just don’t burn! a few minutes is all you need for profound effects.
- Limit sugar and excessive carbohydrates- Too much sugar and refined carbs causes a dependency on these foods to maintain healthy serotonin levels. There’s a complicated physiological reason why this is, that’s beyond the scope of this article. But trust me, you feel depressed and moody until you have that little something sweet. Eat carbs, but eat a moderate amount (between 50 grams and 150 grams a day) and you’ll be good.
- Eat enough Fat, Protein, Fiber and veggies- Yes, fat is not bad. In fact, it’s good. There are still some debates about the exact type and amount of fat to eat. But, just know that the fat scare of the 80’s took it way over the top. Eat your avocadoes, nuts, and olive oil. And yes, eat some amount of saturated fat. It turns out you need some dietary cholesterol to produce proper sex hormones (i.e. testeosterone) that are important for both sexes. Fiber produces serotonin in the gut track of your digestive system.
- Touch someone- Only with their full permission, of course. Any type of physical touch works, from the gentle to the erotic. If you don’t have people you can touch in your life, I’d work on that. You can also go to a massage parlor once a month if you have the cash. Then you kill two birds with one stone. You loosen your body up, and you get that nice boost in serotonin. Can you say twofer?
- Meditate and practice mindfulness- This is more than sitting in an uncomfortable position for an hour. The exact position isn’t as important as the basic idea. Put yourself in a calm setting, such as a bedroom or quite study area, and begin to get into your body. You can be seated or standing, but make sure you’re not so comfortable you risk falling asleep (happened to me, whoops!). Start by simply observing your thoughts, the way they come and go, how they appear, then disappear. You gain a sense of acceptance for your monkey brain.
Oxytocin is easy to achieve, hug someone. That’s all there is to that one. Regular affectionate touch is all you need. So yes, you should hug your Mom when you see her.
Those are some of the best ways I personally manage my serotonin and dopamine, and oxytocin. The future posts in this series will get into more specific ways you apply some of these principales to your life. It takes time, because you’re not designed to go toward sustainable levels of anything.
You’re designed to survive and procreate, fight off intruders and not fall off cliffs.
The proof of that is in how we human beings continue to act. Think about how many people act day to day.
Does it look like most people carefully consider how to manage their behavior.
If they’re considering it, they’re not doing a good job.
Obviously, you need a totally new game plan for the 21ist century. That’s why I do what I do.
Because nobody ever teaches you any of this stuff.
There were never any classes in thinking to increase pleasure or happiness.
Your parents never swatted your hand and told you to mind your dopamine levels.
There was never a standardized test on serotonin in school. Nope, instead you learned Shakespearean sonnets.
I’m guessing you don’t remember it now.
No, this is stuff we all have to learn the hard way, so to speak. Thank God for the internet, huh?
Better men than me have already begun great work similar to this information. Take a look at them if you want to learn more. They are idols to me, and they’ve been a God send for folks such as me.
It may seem like a weird place to start, but it’s necessary. You can’t begin to live a happier, productive life without this knowledge as a base. When in doubt, always come back to these principals. They’ll never lead you wrong. That’s after years of trail and effort on my part.
That’s all for today,
Keep on Keeping on!
P.S. Next up on the schedule, we’ll talk more in depth about slow, gentle movement and hard training. It’ll include different methods for achieving differing results. Everything from what time of day to work out, how long and hard to workout, and how to listen to your body. Fun stuff!
P.S.S. Here’s a secret weapon to take your happiness game up a notch or two. It’s a little compound called Phenibut. Think alcohol without all the stumbling around like an idiot and splitting headaches. It’s like a secret weapon for days when you’re struggling, or when you want to feel like a calm, collected Don Juan. You’ll be smoother than a babies bottom with the chicas, Or chicos for that matter, works for ladies too.