From the Stark Naked Podcast: Experience Emotions and Have a Happier Brain with Dr. Dean Burnett Author of “Happy Brain”
‘Happiness’ is what we are all after in life, right? And if there are scientifically proven ways to make you happy, why don’t we do them all the time? The Stark Naked Radio Podcast: “Experience Emotions and Have a Happier Brain with Dr. Dean Burnett Author of “Happy Brain,” discusses what science says about these universal questions that tie us all together within the human experience.
Dr. Dean Burnett is a neuroscientist, author, blogger, occasional stand-up comedian, and an all-around man of science. He joins the Stark Team to share his research on neurochemistry, the brain, and how it all pertains to being happy.
Dr. Dean Burnett repeatedly reminds us during this podcast that the chemistry of the brain is complex. There are many nuances but for the sake of discussion, there will be some oversimplifications. Dopamine, which is known as the “Happy Chemical” in the brain, is not there to simply make you feel happy. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for the creation and function of the reward pathway within the brain. The reward pathway allows us to experience pleasure. Tasty food, water when you are thirsty, sex, and many more things can trigger it. Now, if we want to be happy, why aren’t we doing things that trigger the reward pathway all the time? Maybe we should do them all at once too!
Thankfully, we had Dr. Burnett with us to quickly dispel that thought. As it turns out, directly boosting the activity of the reward pathway does not make you happier. It does quite the opposite. Directly boosting activity in the reward pathway is like short circuiting the system. Drugs do this to an extreme. Your brain is plastic, figuratively speaking of course. It molds itself to its environment and is affected by your behavior and experiences. When you arbitrarily overstimulate the reward pathway, your brain adapts to the stimulus and begins to balance out the new levels of dopamine its receiving. It gets accustomed to do this and will now treat these new levels of dopamine in the reward pathway as baseline, or the new normal. You will have to short circuit your brain just to feel normal again. This is what happens with drug addicts. They don’t take drugs to feel happy. They take drugs to feel normal.
Well then how does one lead themselves to a happier brain? Again, the answer to that is complex. The answer lies uniquely within each individual. People are different. They have different psychology, different physiology, different genetics, different goals. All of which adds up to a unique answer to the question; how do I make my brain happier? However, there are certain things the human brain has evolved for that offers us happiness in the healthiest way possible.
The human brain needs a proper balance between the familiar and the unknown. We don’t like being in places, situations, and activities that are 100% foreign to us. Anxiety spikes instantly. We also don’t like being in something that is all too familiar. There is nothing that excites us, nothing that drives us. We have evolved to figure out the unknown, but too much of it can overwhelm us. This balance between the familiar and the unknown can be found in every aspect of human life. Whether your goals are to lose fat, lift heavier weights, or learn a new instrument, the balance of the familiar and the unknown in your life will lead to healthier and more beneficial reward pathways being created.
We have also evolved a sizable portion of our brain for socialization. We are social creatures who need to feel the acceptance and support of other people. The quality of the relationships you have with those around you is hugely important for your brain to feel happy.
It is important for people to know where their happiness is coming from. Is it from fleeting physical pleasures that short circuit the brain? Or is it from the balance of setting out into the unknown and accomplishing your goals? Creating quality relationships with good people along the way might be a good idea too. Lastly, in order for your brain to be able to yield the highest amount of ‘happiness’ possible, your body needs to be physically fit. If you have any concerns about the physically fit part, the team at Stark is here to help. And you could create some quality relationships with them too! Look! You’re already on your way to a happier brain.