How to Activate Your Brain’s Happy Chemicals | Loretta Breuning on The Art of Manliness with Brett McKay

Check out the Art of Manliness Episode Page and Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Animals make complex decisions without having a cerebral cortex, that means humans do the same 
    • “When you tell yourself your reason for doing things, that’s just like a tiny percentage of what’s going on” – Lorette Breuning
  • Chemicals drive much of your decision-making process
    • Dopamine is the reward chemical–it’s released in short bursts which encourages the body to repeat the activity to get more of it 
    • Oxytocin is the social trust chemical–touch and sex stimulates it
    • Serotonin is the status chemical–it increases as you rise up the social hierarchy
    • Cortisol is the stress chemical–it warns you of an immediate threat
  • Cortisol has a half-life of 20 minutes
    • “Half of that bad feeling chemical will be gone in 20 minutes as long as I don’t trigger more” Lorette Breuning
      • If you wait 40 minutes, you’ll get rid of 75% of your stress  
  • People are wired by past experiences, if something they did in the past triggered dopamine, they’re more likely to repeat that action even if it’s bad for them (gambling, smoking, etc.)
  • The healthy way to stimulate dopamine is to have short-term, middle-term, and long-term goals
  • If you have a big goal, break it down to smaller steps. Otherwise, it can be frustrating and you might give up.
    • You only need to get one step closer to your goal for your brain to recognize a reward is coming and stimulate dopamine

Intro

Books Mentioned

About Loretta Breuing

  • Loretta grew up in a stressful and anxious household as a child
    • This experience got her interested to learn about what drives a person’s emotional response and she pursued a PhD in management
      • However, after having kids and realizing that kids weren’t always happy, she pivoted to studying happiness

Chemicals Rule Our Lives, Not Logic

  • Animals make complex decisions without having a cerebral cortex, that means humans do the same 
    • “When you tell yourself your reason for doing things, that’s just like a tiny percentage of what’s going on” – Lorette Breuning
      • Chemicals drive much of your decision-making process
  • Dopamine is the reward chemical–it’s released in short bursts which encourages the body to repeat the activity to get more of it 
    • “Dopamine motivates you to seek, seek, seek, because that’s how you get the next meal” – Lorette Breuning
  • Oxytocin is the social trust chemical–touch and sex stimulate it
    •  E.g: When two monkeys groom each other, they build their oxytocin pathways and develop trust  
  • Serotonin is the status chemical–it increases as you rise up the social hierarchy
    • Status is constantly fluctuating based on the environment and who’s around
      • Find healthy ways to gain serotonin- helping others is the most common way
      • Another way to gain serotonin is to take pride in your work and share it online; just be careful to not get addicted to the positive social feedback

Stress & Anxiety

  • Cortisol is the stress chemical–it’s an alarm system that warns you of an immediate threat
    • E.g: A gazelle may be hungry, but if it sees a predator, cortisol will be released and this encourages the gazelle to flee
  • The human cortex can anticipate the future. This explains why humans have higher survival rates than animals. However, humans might experience high levels of cortisol because they constantly anticipate harm.
    • Since humans have eliminated many of the threats our ancestors faced, now even tiny threats can release a lot of cortisol
      • “We have this huge threat detector and nothing else to focus it on” – Lorette Breuning
        • Even something small like being disappointed in your expectations can cause you to feel stressed out
  • Cortisol has a half-life of 20 minutes
    • “Half of that bad feeling chemical will be gone in 20 minutes as long as I don’t trigger more” – Lorette Breuning
      • If you wait 40 minutes, you’ll get rid of 75% of your stress  
        • Try to do something you like, it will protect you from stimulating more cortisol
          • Do an activity that will keep your mind and hands occupied
            • Additionally, crying and sleeping are two ways you can reduce cortisol levels
  • Children pick up on their parent’s, teacher’s, and the media’s sense of threat 
  • Social media has made the anxiety problem worse, but technology has always been a common scapegoat
    • “Every generation uses whatever is the latest technology to explain their anxiety”  – Lorette Breuning
      • When trains were invented, people thought anxiety was increasing because trains were moving too quickly
      • When the telegraph was invented, people thought anxiety was increasing because the news was traveling faster

Boredom & Goal Setting

  • People are wired by past experiences. If their past action triggered dopamine, they’re more likely to repeat that action even if it’s bad for them (gambling, smoking, etc.)
  • Boredom is the lack of dopamine, it causes people to seek excitement or an activity where there would be a reward 
    • The healthy way to stimulate dopamine is the have short-term, middle-term, and long-term goals
      • “If you have a few goals, then you can shift between them so then you can always feel like you’re getting ahead and making progress” – Lorette Breuning
        • E.g: This is why planning for a vacation can oftentimes be more fun than going on the vacation
  • If you have a big goal, break it down to smaller steps. Otherwise, it can be frustrating and you might give up.
    • You only need to get one step closer to your goal for your brain to say a reward is coming and stimulate dopamine

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