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  • By Dr. Chris Curran Dombrowski, D.O.

Pleasure vs happiness

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of our Bodies and Brains.

By Robert H. Lustig, M.D., MSL

Published Sept. 12, 2017

New York: Avery

ISBN 9781101982587

Robert Lustig, M.D., MSL is an American pediatric endocrinologist. He is professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco, where he specializes in neuroendocrinology and childhood obesity. He is the director of UCSF’s WATCH program (Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health), and president and co-founder of the Institute for Responsible Nutrition. He has authored 120 peer-reviewed articles and 70 reviews. Robert is the former chairman of the Obesity Task Force of the Endocrine Society, and a member of the Pediatric Obesity Devices Committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Lustig came to public notice in 2009 when his medical lecture, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” went viral on Youtube. He is the author of “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease (2013).

The healthcare profession has been giving the wrong information and training in regards to nutritional education and guidelines to our patients. We physicians have been creating the healthcare crisis of obesity and diabetes for the past five decades. Sugar is the other white powder. Sugar is a drug. Sugar is addictive. Sugar causes cancer. Sugar causes obesity. Dr. Lustig chronicles the fact that the sugar industry has colluded with other industries to conceal the link between their products and disease, and deliberately throw off the concepts of pleasure and happiness with the primary motive being greed and profit.

Pleasure and happiness are separate entities and operate as opposites. However, the definitions are almost identical because we have mixed up the two terms to mean virtually the same thing.

According to Dr. Lustig: “...because pleasure and happiness, for all their apparent similarity, are separate phenomena, and in the extreme function as opposites. In fact, pleasure is the slippery slope to tolerance and addiction, while happiness is the key to a long life. But if we don’t understand what’s actually happening to our brains, we become prey to industries that capitalize on our addictions in the name of selling happiness. Reward and contentment are both positive emotions, highly valued by humans, and both reasons for initiative and personal betterment. It’s hard to be happy if you derive no pleasure for your efforts. But this is exactly what is seen in the various forms of addiction.

Conversely, if you are perennially discontent, as is often seen in patients with clinical depression, you may lose the impetus to better your social position in life, and it’s virtually impossible to derive reward for your efforts. Reward and contentment rely on the presence of the other. Nonetheless, they are decidedly different phenomena. Yet both have been slowly and mysteriously vanishing from our global ethos as the prevalence of addiction and depression continue to climb.”

There is a neurochemical foundation to the difference between pleasure and happiness. Dr. Lustig writes: “First of all, pleasure is short-lived, like an hour, happiness is long-lived, like a lifetime. Pleasure is visceral, you feel it inside you, and happiness is ethereal, you notice it above yourself. Pleasure is taking; happiness is giving. You can take from a casino or give to Habitat for Humanity, and the feeling you get from the two are very clearly different. Pleasure is achievable with substances, whereas happiness is not. Pleasure is experienced alone, whereas happiness is usually achieved in social groups, in church, on the baseball field, a meal with your family. The extremes of pleasure all have addiction as their end point. You can be addicted to sugar, alcohol, nicotine, social media, video games, shopping, sex. All pleasure. All addiction. Whereas there’s no such thing as being addicted to too much happiness. Pleasure is caused by dopamine and happiness caused by serotonin.”

So there is a neuroscientific basis between pleasure and happiness. Dr. Lustig writes: “Dopamine is excitatory. Neurons want to get excited and that’s why we have receptors in the first place, but they don’t want to be bludgeoned, they want to be tickled. When you overstimulate a neuron, it causes it to die. In order to protect against this, the neuron has a self-defense mechanism — down-regulation of the receptor so the next time the neuron sees that dopamine it won’t respond as severely because there are fewer receptors for it to bind.


Whereas there’s no such thing as being addicted to too much happiness. Pleasure is caused by dopamine and happiness caused by serotonin.”


“In human terms: you get a hit of sugar, you get rush. Next time, you’re going to need a bigger hit, of sugar or any drug, to get the same rush. This is called tolerance, or in diabetes: insulin resistance. When the neurons start to die, that’s called addiction. Serotonin is inhibitory, not excitatory. You can’t overdose on too much happiness because serotonin doesn’t destroy neurons. So the more pleasure you seek, the more unhappy you get. Then throw some stress on top. Stress disinhibits the dopamine even further, and cortisol (the stress hormone) down-regulates the serotonin receptor, making it even harder to generate happiness, and in comes depression. By adding stress to the dopamine system, you get addiction. By adding stress to the serotonin system, you get depression. Our technology, cell phones, social media, drugs, fake news, sugar, sleep deprivation, junk food, all up your dopamine and down your serotonin. We have abdicated our pursuit of happiness for the pursuit of pleasure. And we have become chronically sick and unhappy.”

So what is a parent to do? How can parents make smarter decisions about the consumption of anything?

Dr. Lustig writes: “Learn how to say no. Kids experience happiness but they consume pleasure (soda, candy, fast foods) and the goal is to provide the experiences rather than the consumption. So, the kid who goes with his mother to the store and the kid screams ‘I want this’ and she caves in and gives it to him — that’s not parenting. It maximizes pleasure, but not happiness. Probably the single best thing to do as a family is sitting down to have a meal together. This is the ultimate method for upping serotonin and tamping down dopamine — eating at the same table, without cellphones. Dinner time is family time. And cook. I would say that is the single most valuable thing people can do with their families. Cooking is connecting, contributing and coping. You have to be mindful as you are cooking because you have a recipe to follow, which is good in terms of stress reduction.

The corporate takeover How has Big Food contributed to the problems of food and drug addiction? According to Lustig, “if you look at the Supreme Court decisions that took place in the mid-70s and mid-80s, they took away individual rights and loaded up on corporate rights in a very distinct fashion.”

Corporations can say anything they want, whenever they want, truth be damned. Our current epidemics of obesity, diabetes, food, shopping, opioids and drugs are outgrowths of corporate dishonesty.

As Dr. Lustig writes: “We are now seeing the advent of the post-truth society because of how the Supreme Court chipped away at our own individual rights. By doing so, corporations have affected our ability to experience pleasure and happiness. They’ve actually inserted propaganda into our limbic system, our reward generating system, so that we constantly seek reward at the expense of our own happiness. This is why we currently live in the world we live in. Soon, corporations and government will be one and the same.”

Look at what is going on in the White House today, the nightmare scenario is being played out. It’s fascism in the sense that we don’t have a voice in the situation. This is not fascism in that corporations tell us what to do, it’s that we citizens have abandoned our own responsibility for our own health, safety and well -being.

This book should be read by every high school/college student, citizen, healthcare professionals, you name it. Otherwise we are committing slow suicide. As John Butler Yeats wrote to his son: “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”

Dr. Chris Dombrowski is a family medicine physician for the Department of Health and Social Services’ Northern Division. He received his medical degree from West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine and has been in practice for more than 30 years.

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