One of the greatest motivating forces for nearly every human being is the desire to feel happy. The pursuit of happiness leads people to work long hours to earn the money to buy pleasurable things, to study hard to qualify for a great job, to endure an emotional rollercoaster to land the perfect partner, and on it goes. Even on a daily basis with small things in life we seek food that tastes great, coffee that gives us a buzz, and alcohol that relaxes us. We want to hang out with people who have fun, be part of an exciting event, and experience that special moment. Advertisers capitalise on our fervent desire to be happy and assure us of instant gratification if we would only buy their products.
The good thing is we don’t actually need these products. We were born to be happy. Our bodies have been created with built-in chemistry sets to make sure we wake up happy every day. A marvellous substance called serotonin is secreted by our adrenal glands into our system every morning before we wake up, ensuring that when we first open our eyes in the morning our immediate thoughts are “What a great day! I’ve got places to go, people to see, things to do. Life is so good!” and we bounce out of bed with enthusiasm and happiness.
Does that sound like you? Or are you one who hits the snooze button, pulls the blankets over your head and tries to put off the inevitable. When ‘one more minute’ is no longer an option you get up and make a strong coffee and pray for the caffeine to kick in. It’s a very common scenario for many people – but it is not the way we were meant to be. We were designed to feel happiness every day. So what goes wrong? Why are so many people so unfortunate that they miss out on this rush of serotonin on a daily basis? There are many answers to this question, but they nearly all come under the umbrella of ‘our busy modern lifestyle.’ It could be a stint of night shift, it can be too much stress for too long, or most commonly, in the presence of certain circumstances our own brain emits a chemical that actually interferes with this serotonin release.
Basically, the wrong thoughts in combination over even a brief time can shut off our fix of serotonin. The thoughts themselves can be many and varied, but they come under two themes – one is “I am in a hopeless situation” (I don’t like this part of my life, I didn’t want to break up, if only I could get my job back, why did I ever start this, my life is like a rat-wheel, stop the world I want to get off, etc.). The second theme is “I am helpless to change this” (I can’t do anything about it, I can’t make her change her mind, if only I had done that differently, I can’t get out of this, why doesn’t somebody help me, if only I could make him be nice to me, they will never listen to me, I’ve completely blown it forever). This combination of hopeless-helpless thoughts, entertained repeatedly, triggers the shutdown of serotonin release – and the feeling of happiness. So when we have no serotonin rush any more – and for some people this has gone on for so long they might be wondering if they ever had one – we try to create other ways to experience happiness. Substances – coffee, alcohol, medications, street drugs, chocolate, fatty foods, sweets – all play a part in trying to replicate a feel-good experience. Unfortunately, in either the short- or long-term these self-fix remedies all have negative consequences, ranging from obesity to poverty. Showing people how to restore a healthy serotonin production (and their happiness) is one of the joys of working as a psychologist. If you’d like help with yours, give us a call. 07 5564 2202