Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
26 Jul

Are We Pre-Programmed to Be Happy?

I think we can all agree that a basic goal in life is the attainment of happiness, that mind state characterized by positive and pleasant thoughts and emotions. But how do we become happy? By definition, happiness requires some type of pleasure to be present. We need good feelings and good physical sensations. Furthermore, the pleasure must come first, before the happiness. Something, and I don’t care what it is, has to make you feel good before you can truly call yourself happy. As such, our behaviors and our motivations are shaped by that pleasure-seeking tendency. And that pleasure-seeking is mediated through the reward system, which has several different but interrelated components: liking, which describes the sensation of pleasure; wanting, which describes the desire to obtain the thing; and learning, the Pavlovian-esque conditioning. Basically, if we do something or expose ourselves to something (a fun social situation, a healthy food, the sun) that confers a survival and/or health benefit (improved social standing, some vital nutrient that our body needs, vitamin D production), our reward center “activates.” We like it, we want it, and we learn that having it is in our best interest.

Today, I’m interested in the “liking” part of reward – both the subjective experience of pleasure (“that hand massage feels good”) and the objective hedonic response (the neurochemistry that controls the hand massage feeling good). Ultimately, it’s the “liking” that we, well, like. It’s the sensation of pleasure we experience before anything else. We have to know that something feels good before we can want it, before a behavior can be reinforced or learned.

We like things for a reason that extends beyond the “liking.” There’s a biochemical component to pleasure, couched in the evolutionary drive to survive and reproduce and prosper. Thus, if hitting a squat PR, having great sex with your partner, and eating the bag of fat and protein and collagen known as a grass-fed beef rib make you feel warm and tingly, that’s probably a sign that those things are good for you, because our pleasure system was likely developed with those stimuli (lifting heavy things, sexual contact, animal fat and protein) in mind. Conversely, a gram of cocaine on a Saturday night, a hard drive full of every porn permutation imaginable, and a McRib might make you feel even warmer and tinglier, and they’ll certainly keep you coming back for more, but they are supraphysiological triggers of those same reward pathways and thus deserving of suspicion. Our reward systems likely weren’t developed to handle stimuli of that magnitude, because stimuli of that magnitude simply did not exist. Our reward systems developed for a reason: to reinforce behaviors that conferred a survival benefit.

How does it all work?

As neuroscientists are learning new things about the brain’s pleasure systems every day, it’s still a work in progress, but this is the basic gist:

Sensory data from touch, smell, taste, and sound travel to the sensory cortex, where they are interpreted in terms of magnitude. Was it a soft or a hard touch, a strong or a faint smell, a powerful or a mild flavor – that sort of thing. Strong sensations elicit lots of sensory cortex activity as seen in MRIs, while sensations of less magnitude elicit less activity. From the sensory cortex, the data is sent to various parts of the brain, including the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and a host of others. These are the “hedonic hotspots,” areas of the brain rich in opioid-and-cannabinoid-producing and opioid-and-cannabinoid-receptive neurons (PDF). The more a person reports liking a particular sensation, the greater these areas light up with activity when presented with data from said sensation. The OFC, it seems, is a hotspot where a lot of the initial liking happens. The ventral pallidum is another, perhaps the major, hedonic hotspot that has been shown to respond to “diverse human rewards from food to money.” (PDF) The VP receives data from a host of other brain reward areas, including the OFC, to which it applies “liking.” It is in this particularly hedonic hotspot that researchers think opioids and endocannabinoids effectively “paint” sensations with “hedonic gloss” to make them pleasurable to us. “Sweet” isn’t delicious if the hedonic hotspots don’t get their say in the matter.

Pleasure is also mediated and modified by context. Hunger is the best spice, after all, and there’s nothing quite so pleasurable as an ice cold glass of water when you’re parched on a summer’s day. If a sodium-replete rat is given a super-salty food to taste, there is no pleasure response in the brain. If a sodium-depleted rat is given the same super-salty food, it’s suddenly pleasurable (PDF). Thus, it’s not just the properties of the stimulus that determine the pleasure response, but also the physiological needs of the person responding.

What about dopamine?

Although it used to be viewed as the pleasure neurotransmitter, neuroscientists generally agree that dopamine is the driver of reward. It’s the neurotransmitter that creates “wanting,” not “liking.” Dopamine does not mediate sensory pleasure. Dopamine doesn’t make sex feel good. It just makes you want the sex. Or, with something like amphetamine, which increases dopamine, you “want” the drug even if you don’t “like” the feeling.

Now that we have a rudimentary understanding of how pleasure works in the brain, let’s look at some specific examples of how this neurochemistry plays out when we’re exposed to a pleasurable stimulus.


Food is perhaps the most fundamental trigger of pleasure circuits (and the most easily abused). Stephan from Whole Health Source and J. Stanton from both have excellent takes on the food-reward system that pretty much cover it all. Go read them.


I probably don’t have to tell anyone this, but orgasm feels good. It’s an overpowering pleasure, an intense culmination that somehow marries anticipation with sensation. Sure enough, during male ejaculation, the (male’s) brain apparently lights up like a heroin user’s right after shooting up, indicating a major role for opioids. Neuroimaging studies on women during orgasm also reveal significant activation of the brain’s pleasure centers. I also don’t have to tell anyone why sex feeling good helps the survival of the species, nor why our brains would insist on making sex pleasurable.


You’ve all heard about the runner’s high, right, that euphoric, pleasant state of mind you can reach through intense exercise? It used to be assumed that elevated serum levels of beta-endorphins (an endogenous opioid) were responsible, until scientists realized that beta-endorphins are too large to cross the blood-brain barrier into the brain, where the “pleasant state of mind” generally resides. In order for endorphins to be responsible, it would have to be the endorphins that the brain itself secretes. Only problem? Doing a spinal tap to check the opioid content of brain fluid is highly unpleasant and not very practical for human subjects. Luckily, a team of German scientists figured out a non-invasive way to track the activity of endorphins in the brain. They used this method on runners who’d just completed an intense bout of endurance training and found that endorphins do increase in the brain after exercise, particularly in the runners who reported the most euphoria. These brain endorphins aren’t just there to make you feel good, either. They’re also necessary for the exercise-induced creation of new brain cells. Furthermore, it appears that voluntary exercise is key. Plodding on the treadmill with the trainer’s proverbial whip at your back might not have quite the same pleasurable (and brain-boosting) effect as going for a trail run through your favorite piece of wilderness.

Endocannabinoids play a role, too. They’re small enough to pass through the blood-brain barrier, and mice with a cannabinoid receptor deficiency in the brain run 30-40% less than control mice. In humans and dogs, exercise increases anandamide (an endocannabinoid) signaling throughout the body and brain. They say we’re “wired to run,” but really, we’re “wired to do things that make us happy.”


Touch is both utilitarian and pleasing. You use it to grasp the handle of the shovel, to tell you that you’ve just bumped into something, to differentiate between sharp and dull objects, and to shake hands, among other activities. But touch can also be sensual and pleasurable, and research shows the large myelinated nerve fibers that pick up on “rapid skin movement” (hard labor, grasping door handles, shaking hands, utilitarian stuff) are separate from the nerve fibers that pick up on “innocuous skin deformation” (stroking, caressing). In fact, the sensual fibers, known as c-tactile nerve fibers, activate the orbitofrontal cortex, the same place that responds to pleasant tastes and smells, as well as other areas of the brain known to be activated by opioids. The large myelinated fibers activate and inform the tactile discrimination function (the ability to differentiate sensory data received through touch), which is mediated through another area of the brain.

Touch also releases oxytocin, a hormone that helps lower stress, increase relaxation, and promote bonding. Oxytocin probably isn’t directly related to hedonic pleasure, but the attenuation of stress and the feeling of bonding with another person are a kind of pleasure – and certainly improve one’s survival fitness.

Sun Exposure

Lying in the sun, particularly when you haven’t seen any for awhile, is an intensely pleasurable experience. You’re warm, you’re relaxed, you can almost feel the vitamin D synthesizing. For all intents and purposes, reasonable sun exposure is a healthy endeavor the pursuit of which should be mediated by the brain’s reward system. And yet study after study indicate that sun exposure does not increase circulating serum opioids. What’s the deal here? Well, seeing as how opioids in the blood can’t really cross into the brain, all these studies tell us very little about what’s going on in the brain and thus triggering (or not) our pleasure centers. I was unable to find any studies that looked at brain opioid activity, but seeing as how the addictive nature of tanning is being seriously explored, and getting sun is subjectively pleasurable, I’m confident it too triggers the pleasure network in the brain.

After all, even when you try to fool experienced tanners with fake UV, they know the difference and prefer real UV. Something is making the sun rewarding. If I had to place a wager, I’d bet that it has to do with the proopiomelanocortin (POMC) gene, whose expression triggers the secretion of melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH, a hormone that darkens the skin and protects it from UV damage) in the pituitary and beta-endorphins in the brain. If sunlight can trigger the release of MSH via the POMC gene, perhaps it’s also releasing beta-endorphins in the brain to make you feel good and get more sun (and thus vitamin D). This hasn’t been explicitly tested, but it wouldn’t be a surprising result.


Studies indicate that opioid action in the brain precipitates the “chills” or “shivers down the spine” you get when listening to a particularly good song. Indeed, as the intensity of the chills increased, cerebral blood flow to the areas of the brain involved with reward and pleasure also increased. Wait, wait, wait – but music isn’t “natural.” Why do we respond so strongly to it? Well, music takes advantage of pleasure centers that evolved to respond to the babbling brook that promises fresh water, the cry of gulls that means the coast is near, the crashing waves that accompany the gathering of shellfish. You generally don’t get chills from listening to the sound of nature, but rather a warm, relaxed, soothing feeling. Those pleasant feelings are happening in the same brain that produces music-induced chills, probably through similar avenues.

You’ve probably noticed that the neurochemistry of all this pleasure stuff isn’t quite as ironclad as, say, the Kreb’s cycle. We can recreate the latter on a poster using arrows and legends and symbols and know that it’s an accurate representation of what’s going on in your body. We can’t yet make a neat picture of what happens in the brain to make sensations pleasurable, because the brain is plastic and the pleasure “center” is actually spread out over many different regions. It’s not a linear path. Heck, the guys who study this stuff for a living admit that many questions remain unanswered. However, what we do know is this: the actual physical manifestions of happiness and pleasure are not learned, but innate.

Or, as Kent Berridge (PDF), neuroscientist of pleasure (sounds like a great male stripper name, eh?), puts it, “Evidence so far available suggests that brain mechanisms involved in fundamental pleasures (food and sexual pleasures) overlap with those for higher-order pleasures (e.g. monetary, artistic, musical, altruistic and transcendent pleasures). From sensory pleasures and drugs of abuse to monetary, aesthetic and musical delights, all pleasures seem to involve the same hedonic brain systems, even when linked to anticipation and memory.”

In other words, we come equipped with a robust and complex reward and pleasure system(s) whose primary job is to keep us healthy, strong, fit, and above all, happy. Sure, as I mentioned last weekthose systems can be hijacked by processed food, drugs, alcohol, tanning beds, and other hyper-stimuli to wreak havoc on our health and happiness, but the systems are not our enemies. If we use our better judgment, if we stop to think about why whatever we’re doing feels good and makes us happy, if we trust our intuition that things like bird songs, sunshine, the smell of dirt, and a babbling brook are good stimuli, I think we can actually use the reward/pleasure system for its intended purpose – to guide us toward smart choices that benefit our health, happiness and wellness.

Sorry, for the length on this one, folks, but the subject matter itself is a little dense. I hope you enjoyed it. Most importantly, I hope you learned a little something about why you like the things that you like, and why liking them isn’t just understandable, but absolutely necessary for health and happiness.

I’ll be covering how we can align our lifestyle behaviors with what our genes “expect” of us to live not only healthy and fit lives, but also happy, fulfilling, content and peaceful existences in the modern world, here on Mark’s Daily Apple and in my upcoming book The Primal Connection (due out first quarter 2013). Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. So much to enjoy as humans. Yeah, I’d say we are pre-programmed to be happy. Here’s to good health!!! Enjoy good health and life can be happily fulfilling.

    Lea wrote on July 26th, 2012
    • +1

      Yet people sit, sit, sit and stare at screens all day long at work and then come home and do it some more.

      For me, the TV is the last thing that will make me happy. Send me outside with the Sun and perhaps a mix of clouds. A golf course will do the trick but I would not mind the beach or forest.

      Or just some grass…

      Set up a volleyball net and I’ll join. Grab a basketball and find a court with a hoop and I’m game. Or why not a racket and tennis court?

      Reading this blog makes me happy too.

      Primal Toad wrote on July 26th, 2012
      • Dammit. I forgot about bacon!

        Primal Toad wrote on July 26th, 2012
        • There you go! Focus on the positive. :-)

          Lea wrote on July 26th, 2012
      • +1

        Even just going to eat breakfast, dinner, or lunch outside can really brighten up your day. I wonder if there is some sort of link between raised vitamin D levels and happiness.

        I find that when I go on camping or hiking trips, I always feel so much happier and more human. Just getting up and doing real physical work can even make you feel more accomplished and happier.

        Max Ungar wrote on July 26th, 2012
        • I’m right there with you on the feeling you get while camping.

          Oh, now I really want to go camping!

          Casey wrote on July 26th, 2012
        • I’ve been sleeping in a tent for the past two weeks on an organic farm. I’ve never felt more in touch with nature! It’s an awesome feeling!!

          Eric wrote on July 26th, 2012
        • I second the “doing real physical work” part. The sense of accomplishment I cam gain in under an hour from working around the house or in the yard is great.

          yoolieboolie wrote on July 26th, 2012
      • “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”
        “Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you’ll look back and realize they were big things.”
        “And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
        “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning do to do afterward.”
        ― Kurt Vonnegut


        ravi wrote on July 26th, 2012
        • love those snippets Ravi! I read them as I am about to start my day with a pre-dawn swim in a local lake with a handful of other appreciative folks.

          Nancy M wrote on July 27th, 2012
  2. such a great post! i’ve always noticed that a day at the pool or beach just makes me feel so good. i’ve assumed it was the vitamin d, and this post helped make things even more clear for me!

    Marissa wrote on July 26th, 2012
  3. This post stimulated dopamine and now I want more :)

    Groktimus Primal wrote on July 26th, 2012
  4. Sex..eating…music…play…sun…
    Primal Summer!

    Tom B-D wrote on July 26th, 2012
  5. Happy moments in the last couple of days:
    Great workout
    Walking the dogs with shirt off, soaking in some vitamin S
    Licking the egg yolk off my plate this morning. (You know Grok would have done this too!)
    Simple pleasures.

    Danogrok wrote on July 26th, 2012
    • Love walking the dog with my shirt off.You get some looks, but its well worth it. I also love climbing a tree or two whenever I walk my dog. Ill see a try and I wont be able to pass up the opportunity.

      Max Ungar wrote on July 26th, 2012
  6. The Primal Connection!

    I’ve been waiting for this! Mark mentioned it at Primal Con last year. It’s gonna be huge.

    Primal Toad wrote on July 26th, 2012
  7. First off, great article.
    But this presupposes that a state of happiness is achieved when the sum of pleasureable stimuli passes some threshold. I am not denying the huge capacity of a human being for pleasure (indeed I think you can judge a man on his capacity for enjoyment/pleasure), but it seems to discount the Baudelairian weight (C’est l’Ennui!) that I do not think is just a byproduct of the absence of the pleasureable stimuli mentioned above. Sometimes a belly-rub just won’t do.
    When does one transition between happy/pleasureable experiences and fulfillment?

    Anders wrote on July 26th, 2012
    • To clarify: There are very few situations where a belly-rub won’t do, but I think I have heard they exist.

      Anders wrote on July 26th, 2012
    • Most of human organization and physiology is based on “thresholds”. Whether it’s a concentration gradient of salt somewhere around/in a cell, or the build-up of sodium and potassium necessary for nerve conduction, there is a necessary threshold before a signaling cascade occurs. I think this likely holds true for pleasure hormones as well. As Mark said, however, this ephemeral “threshold” may change due to the current state of the person in question – one man’s trash, another man’s treasure, cold water before/after exercise, etc. Sometimes life is out to get you and a belly rub won’t do – that’s why we have dark chocolate ;). Then, when you’re feeling all better and a minor inconvenience comes along, you can use the simpler belly rub to fix it because you’re closer to your “happy” state than before (shorter threshold).

      As for happiness vs. fulfillment? I think true happiness IS fulfillment, and the transition occurs when you successfully reach your intrinsic goals (self-actualization kind of stuff, if we’re talking psychology). Things like exercise, food, and social interaction are all very important and not just means to an end. But it is clear that the “end” is being the best person we can be (our genes like that idea very much, and I assume it’ll be a topic of conversation in Marc’s book). There’s a discussion of the topic here (which I just randomly googled to find), about restructuring Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to fit modern evolutionary psychology.

      Adam wrote on July 26th, 2012
  8. WOW…. this is Really good advice… I need to practice this every day

    John D wrote on July 26th, 2012
  9. Nice post Mark. I think their may be something to eating chocolate also, because I’ve heard it stimulated the same hormone as when you fall in love. Just a thought.

    Grok On!

    Max Ungar wrote on July 26th, 2012
  10. Happiness is yards and yards of fabric and all the time in the world to sew!

    Debi wrote on July 26th, 2012
    • I hear you!

      Kelda wrote on July 26th, 2012
  11. Oh! I forgot the nap.^_^

    Debi wrote on July 26th, 2012
  12. great article, i am really glad you have decided to look at neuroscience from an evolutionary perspective. it is so fascinating and it really ties everything together when thinking about achieving true health. can’t tell you how excited i am for the book next year.

    Jake wrote on July 26th, 2012
  13. Just returned from a camping trip to Yosemite…the smell of the air, the feel of the cold water and the hot sun, the sound of the running rivers and the wind in the trees and the euphoria of making it to the top (of Vernal falls–had our 3 young kids with us, and lost on the half dome lottery)! Lots of happy feelings this week!

    Meesha wrote on July 26th, 2012
  14. No I am not going to proselytize here–although I was never truly joyful until I became a Christian. But since that time I have been able to experience happiness in so many simple things– like primal eating, sunshine, workouts, laughter generated by observing my grandkids, mowing the lawn in 98 degree heat on a humid day in Tennessee…and by ravishing my wife (but having to catch her first).

    I have found happiness is a passing state, but pure contentment, pure joy is an ever present underlying realization. As Abe Lincoln once said, “People are about as happy as they decide to be.” And no– I didn’t hear him say that–I am not that old!

    Pastor Dave wrote on July 26th, 2012
    • lol

      yoolieboolie wrote on July 26th, 2012
  15. So, as my wife prepares for another Ironman and her exercise addiction, I will watch her swim, bike and run all over the place. All the while I will be doing my Tabata sprints and eating bacon. I wonder who will have more happiness at the finish line……

    Mike wrote on July 26th, 2012
  16. Great post! As the Dalai Lama has said, the purpose of our lives is to be happy!! :-)

    H wrote on July 26th, 2012
    • Men are that they might have joy.

      Craig wrote on July 26th, 2012
    • Thanks for referring to the Dalai Lama. In his book on The Art of Happiness, he says that pleasure is fleeting and temporary. True happiness comes from “things” that are stable and consistent…in other words, to me anyways, that means to Thrive!

      I’m with his Holiness on what makes him happy, Good Food and a Good Sleep!

      B-) wrote on July 26th, 2012
  17. What is a tabata sprint?

    Suzann wrote on July 26th, 2012
    • See

      Before Primal I did Suzzanne Somers on the diet side and Tabata Protocol on the exercize side. Primal goes beyond both and includes, well, pretty much all good things which is why I like it so much.

      Craig wrote on July 26th, 2012
  18. I don’t agree that something has to happen to us to ‘make’ us happy before we can be happy. We can make a choice to be happy and a choice to ‘see’ the world or think of the world in a different way than we currently are that may be causing unhappiness. I think many people believe that because ‘nothing good ever happens to them’ their bitterness, sadness, self loathing, etc…is justified. Little do they realize that it’s not happy people who are thankful but thankful people who are happy, no matter their circumstances!

    drea wrote on July 26th, 2012
    • i agree i thought the same thing

      Jake wrote on July 26th, 2012
      • I agree too,
        Sure there is a brain effect but that elusive free will has an effect as well. I also feel that we have to be very wary and critical of modern media that tries to influence our definitions of happiness and contentment. I am preaching to the converted here, but it is so important to challenge our kids to question the notion that happiness is only obtained through the next new gadget/fashion accessory/drug/fad, rather than what we would call the simple things in life. It’s ongoing and we need to start young and stay resolute.

        Heather wrote on July 26th, 2012
    • The state of happiness is a complex interaction that spans chemical, environmental, social and will. We are creatures of “will” and that may give is what we want but that may not be ulitimate happiness. It may be argued that struggle is more importnat than happieness.

      to be more poilte:
      “the jouney is more important than the result”

      There is still so much to learn about our biology/physiogy.

      kiran wrote on July 26th, 2012
      • …And some spelling to be learned as well… :)


        kiran wrote on July 26th, 2012
  19. “I think we can all agree that a basic goal in life is the attainment of happiness, that mind state characterized by positive and pleasant thoughts and emotions.” What an SP thing for you to say.

    The SP’s, as you noted/exemplified, seek happiness/pleasure, and are present-oriented.

    The SJ’s seek security, and are past-oriented.

    The NF’s seek to love (they assume any problem is a sign they haven’t given enough love; this can lead to various problems), and are past/present/future-oriented.

    The NT’s (I am one) seek the Truth, no matter the consequences to self or others, and are future-oriented.

    I illustrated this intersection of the MBTI and Temperament theory using the cartoon/movie characters The Fantastic Four:

    Jeffrey of Troy wrote on July 26th, 2012
    • I think he’s talking more at a base level here. Nobody can deny that they want happiness, which itself is defined by pleasant/positive emotions. Note he didn’t say pleasurable, however. I think the MBTI is also a little too specific in its attempts to label people as seeking either one or another higher-order acquisition (like Truth, or security, or pleasure). Everybody would like a healthy dose of all three, I believe, and I’m confused as to the utility of classifying people as anything further than introvert and extrovert (and even those break down when individuals are exposed to varying situations). You say the dividing line is between iNtuitive and the Sensible, which may be true, however it can be said from the neurobiology of sensation that everyone is a sensationalist. When I consider that Sensation and Feeling are somehow different components of the MBTI, and then I look back at how these brain hormones drive and intertwine with complex behaviors/beliefs, I am skeptical as to how accurately we can label people’s personalities. That being said, it is a fact that introverts and extroverts are wired differently, but I haven’t seen any studies on these other factors of the MBTI. I am an ISTP, by the way, which describes me very well (for some/most situations, anyways). Thoughts? :)

      Adam wrote on July 26th, 2012
  20. Great piece, and never apologise for the length!

    Kelda wrote on July 26th, 2012
  21. “..the pleasure “center” is actually spread out over many different regions. It’s not a linear path.”

    Various parts of the brain – sometimes also including parts of the body outside the brain – interact with each other in such a way as to create “virtual organs”. We know them by their behaviors, but they cannot be physically located in one spot like “normal” organs, such as heart and liver.

    Even “the mind” or “the self” is the result of the interaction of your skull brain (100 billion neurons) and your gut brain (100 million neurons), which are connected directly by the vagus nerve, and indirectly by being in the same body together.

    Jeffrey of Troy wrote on July 26th, 2012
  22. insanely fascinating post today :) especially for a positivity junkie like me. Thanks, can’t wait to delve into some of those links.

    yoolieboolie wrote on July 26th, 2012
  23. Reading briefly through the comments, I’m curious about how cultivating happiness through altruism, cooperation,and choice become rewarding and self replicating events.

    yoolieboolie wrote on July 26th, 2012
  24. It makes a lot of sense evolutionarily for humans to be pre-programmed to be happy and healthy. But what surprises me constantly is how Primal Living (or even any fat-burning diet that involves relatively low carbs) makes me feel happy/content/pleasure-seeking, whereas carb-burning diets make me feel depressed/moody/pain adverse. And weirder still, both states are self-perpetuating, though occasionally I find outside stress will tip me back over into the carb-eating/moody/miserable state.

    Mari wrote on July 26th, 2012
  25. Great post. I wonder what it is specifically about endurance running that produces endorphins and brain cell generation as opposed to other forms of exercise.

    James wrote on July 26th, 2012
  26. If we are programmed to be happy, my OS has some pretty serious bugs in the code.

    Warmbear wrote on July 26th, 2012
    • +1

      Somebody had to come clean about it! I’ve been debugging for years. Running better each year, now that I’ve got a REAL programmer working on it… (me)

      Joy Beer wrote on July 26th, 2012
  27. I would love to hear more about the supra-physiological triggers and their aftermath in the body. It seems like because our bodies aren’t designed for them, there’s always some sort of ‘crash’ associated with these triggers.

    I think the more people can be educated about the ‘crash’ of porn, food, gratuitous violence in the media, and all the wild stimulus in our lives, the better off we’ll all be.

    Any thoughts of where to find more information?

    Diane Friedman wrote on July 26th, 2012
  28. I realize you didn’t have room to cover all the senses, but it’s interesting which ones you chose to prioritize. Why leave out smell and sight? Those are two major stimuli for a large number of people.

    Joanna wrote on July 26th, 2012
  29. This is a fine post on pleasure, but I don’t see what pleasure has to do with happiness. This may be because I’m a Presbyterian.

    Ion Freeman wrote on July 26th, 2012
  30. I know someone who is “clinically depressed” and on anti-depressants. I realize that depression is complicated but I’m sure it’s no coincidence that she is also overweight, sendentary and has VERY poor eating habits. She’s envious of my “always look on the bright side of life” attitude, my energy and my lean muscular body but she won’t take the first step to try to acheive it. She’s in her 40’s. If she doesn’t change something she will lead a very sad life and likely die prematurely without ever seeing her grandchildren.

    steffturner wrote on July 26th, 2012
    • oops “sedentary” ^^

      steffturner wrote on July 26th, 2012
      • I found that when I started on this journey, the first thing I gave up was sugar. I didn’t loose weight, but I was euphoric! I couldn’t believe the change in my mood, and outlook on life it was a huge step towards primal eating. I feel sorry for your friend, ultimately it has to come from her the need to change, maybe reminding her of the definition of insanity may help (doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result),

        Heather wrote on July 26th, 2012
        • Thank you for sharing Heather. That first step you took…cutting out sugar…was a very powerful one. It’s amazing how one small change can make such a huge impact on your life. You’re right she has to wake up and decide to change something (anything) if she ever hopes to start recovering from her “illness”.

          steffturner wrote on July 26th, 2012
  31. Gorgeous post! I wonder if the response to music is also partly a tribal thing? Along with dance, it’s such a timeless way to bring people together, so makes sense we’d be programmed to respond well?

    Something I’ve increasingly grown to appreciate with Primal Blueprint is that sense of life-enhancement, though. Especially the food – delicious, and I love how nourished my body feels for it – but also the stressless approach to exercise. I swear I do more of it now than I did when it was regimented!

    Rachel wrote on July 26th, 2012
  32. In my experience, happiness is more a decision than a response. Pleasure is result of an action. As a single woman over 50 who is always on the move, sex is only a lovely memory. My pleasures result from my kids, long walks with my dog, or just sitting out on the patio with my morning coffee. I love giving to the needy or just randomly complimenting strangers. It is enough.

    TruckerLady wrote on July 26th, 2012
    • Exactly, simple and real, being present during your day…

      Amy wrote on July 26th, 2012
    • Perfectly said. My belief is if sitting alone in a room isn’t enough then there’s a problem. Also, if engaging the world with action with no expectation of return isn’t enough, that’s also a problem. It’s all about mindset moment to moment and resetting when necessary. Some days it is more necessary than others.

      Cheryl Boswell wrote on July 27th, 2012
    • Rachel:

      On Music being a “tribal thing,” you might enjoy Daniel Levitin’s book, This Is Your Brain On Music.

      On the stressless approach to exercise, I find that music can play a big role – have you found that? There’s something about synching your body’s movements to great tunes.

      I agree with you on nourishment and life enhancement. :-)


      Susan Alexander wrote on July 30th, 2012
  33. Interesting article. I think in looking at our evolution the greatest cause for happiness is connecting with other human beings, since our ability to work together and our acceptance within the tribe would have been absolutely critical to our survival. That said, I think our minds are always programmed to have a certain feeling of lack, as that is what constantly drives us forward to continue taking action towards survival/reproduction. Anyway, good read!

    Sean Nalewanyj wrote on July 26th, 2012
  34. Check out: Buss, D. M. (2000). The Evolution of Happiness. American Psychologist, 55(1), 15-23.

    Scott UK wrote on July 27th, 2012
  35. Music isn’t natural? That’s kinda like saying tools,body adornments, cave paintings, and fire aren’t natural. Music is ephemeral and doesn’t fossilize well (with the exception of a few bone flutes here and there), but the same goes for language and love.

    I strongly disagree that “music takes advantage of pleasure centers that evolved to respond to the babbling brook that promises fresh water” etc. I think it is far more likely that music served the same purpose it serves today: to create and maintain group identity. To expand on Dunbar’s theory of language, you can groom one individual, you can converse with a few, but you can sing with thousands.

    Given our tremendous interdependence and the sheer volume and complexity of culture to be transmitted from generation to generation, I think social cohesion is sufficiently important to warrant a reward mechanism of its own. Music unites individuals as a group, therefore music is pleasurable — no co-opting of food cues necessary.

    em wrote on July 27th, 2012
  36. Great post, as long as the information is relevant the length of the post irrelevant.

    Björn Axén wrote on July 27th, 2012
  37. I’m currently enduring a divorce due to my unfaithful husband, however, this post has reminded me of all the simple pleasures that I am still fortunate enough to be able to enjoy and be happy about.

    Anna wrote on July 27th, 2012
  38. Really great post thanks dear for sharing this and really got the reason the happiness is not only the mind but also from our health it can be decided.

    sagajagads wrote on July 27th, 2012

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!