Addiction and Happiness

Some addictions are unconscious habits while others are avoidance habits. It can be easy to slip into habits of behaviour through family and friends etc. You may even have a genetic propensity towards certain behaviours. However, some habits are the results of displacing your energy so that you avoid solving your problems in favour of enacting the addiction. This could be as simple as having another cup of coffee or a cigarette. Either which way you avoid attending to the task that you ought to.

With the birth of neuropsychology, a magical science that returns western psychology to its older Ayurvedic roots, we can begin to make the connection between chemical markers in the brain and emotional states of feeling and motivation. The one chemical or endorphin that we all know about is serotonin. This is described as the “happy endorphin” and is concerned with mood. Anti-depressants work by, maintaining a useful level of serotonin in the brain. Depression is either caused by, or causes, a drop in serotonin.

The carb habit

With our increased understanding we now know that the levels of serotonin are promoted by eating carbohydrates. That means that biscuits, crisps, pasta, chips, and so on really are comfort foods. When we eat carbs the increase in serotonin production makes us feel good. This can become an addiction.

In psychology we now talk about the ‘carbohydrate cycle’. If someone is feeling down or depressed they will often eat carbs to make them-selves feel better. This is really a form of self-medication. The cycle works like this. I feel down so I eat the carbs to make me feel better. As I put on weight I see my body in the mirror and feel bad. So, I then go and eat the carbs again to make me feel better.

We are told that the population, in the affluent west, is getting progressively fatter. We are told that this is the fault of food companies and fast food outlets. However, the attraction that the population has developed to carbs just might be an indication of a more generalised depressive malaise that leads us all to self medicate on comfort foods in an attempt to feel better.

When I was kid I was told that fat people were always jolly. Well, I guess that if your system is awash with serotonin, after over indulging on carbs, you might well come over as pretty jolly. The point is that if we are getting bigger it might just be a mask hiding an incipient depressive malaise. It stands to reason that such a depressive state is destructive to both family and society, not good at all.

I am reminded that agricultural, village based societies, have very low levels of psychiatric and emotional disorders and that we only see the development of significant emotional disorders when societies industrialise and urbanise.

It leads me suspect that our generalised increase in weight is not so much an expression of affluence, more an indication of dissatisfaction and low mood. If we are to repair the emotional fractures in ourselves and society at large, we need to focus mindfully on creating a happy world to live in. Essentially in mindfulness we do not turn away from what is in front of us, rather we deal with whatever life throws at us acknowledging the lessons that we each need to learn. It can be too easy to turn away from our life path into alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and carbs etc rather than dealing ‘with’ and ‘living life’.

So what is an addiction?

When we are born we have a basic internal chemical environment. This is partly genetic, partly due to what our mother has been eating, or imbibing throughout pregnancy, plus what we have eaten or inhaled from the moment of birth. This is our baseline internal chemistry. As we grow and develop a liking for food this environment changes. It will also be effected by experiences and our moods and so on. In the end we have a sense of self, a sense of what feels right or normal, we have created our own addiction.

What is your poison?

We are all addicted to something. So, what is your addiction? Let’s say that you have taught your body to tolerate nicotine, or sugar or caffeine, or heroine, then you have created an internal chemical environment that is now your normal. If the level of these chemicals drops you will not feel right and go into withdrawal. The natural behaviour is to seek out the substance that will make you feel normal again.

Some substances that we are addicted to maybe more subtle. If we focus on being miserable or angry and that becomes our normal chemical environment and we have nothing to be miserable or angry about then, we will seek out situations that will return us to normality. The same is true of happy chemical states, of anxiety, depression and so on. Once the habit is established and is accepted as normal we will do what we can to maintain that chemical environment.

Some habitual addictive behaviours become displacements. Do you use it to avoid something, if so what? For example, someone who smokes may opt to nip out for a cigarette as a response to things that are emotionally difficult rather than face and deal with the problem. The same might be true of alcohol or just having another cup of coffee.

The magic is that if we do not like the way that we are, the habits that we have developed, we have the capacity to change them. Within 90 days anyone can change any habit.

What would you like to change?

Take care and develop happy habits,

Sean x

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