Some may know the author from his book, Fat Chance, or one of his many youtube presentations about the compelling dangers from the dramatically increased sugar consumption in our diets. In his new book The Hacking of the American Mind, Dr. Lustig takes a different tack exposing not only the complications of sugar and why we want more of it but also our appetite to stimulate the biochemical receptors that give us pleasure. More specifically, the book is about the science behind pleasure and happiness, how most of us confuse the two, and how government and business knowingly blur the difference between them at our expense.
In January, I wrote a post entitled Accumulating Pleasure Moments. At the time, I was treading the hazy space of fusion between pleasure and happiness without realizing the difference. Pleasure, I deduced, could be the opposite of pain.
Dr. Lustig goes into great detail to explain the chemical differences between the neural pathways that pleasure and happiness take. Pleasure, it seems, evoked by a dopamine response, can fool us if we are not careful. One of the downsides of constantly seeking pleasure, he says, are addictions, which in turn decreases our happiness quotient.
I’m not sure I agree with the author’s point that pleasure moments last for one hour then they are gone. I was recently upgraded to first-class on a trans-pacific trip. The resulting pleasure lasted well over 16 hours. Then again, perhaps I was interpreting the delight of the flight incorrectly. Now I know to be cautious least the anticipation of an upgrade happens too frequently or I could become addicted.
In narrating, Lustig has a somewhat peculiar way of emphasizing prepositions at times, especially “the.” But his passion for the subject is evident, and the net effect of his reading the book is a plus. It was also reassuring to hear that even he has fallen prey to the grips of pleasure, i.e., coffee (daily) and ice cream (on rare occasions). In fairness, he explains, pleasure isn’t all bad, and at times, even intersects with happiness (contentment). But given that the dopamine effects of pleasure are so powerful, it behooves us to recognize its intoxicating influence, both physically and emotionally.
In short, I found the book highly informative and well worth the read, or listen, for anyone seeking to reap the benefits of pleasure and happiness by managing them so that the former does not dampen the latter.
Meanwhile, when I make it from point A to point B on my new commuter cruising skateboard without landing on my ass, I’ll be satisfied to be pleasantly content.