Podcast #234 // Robert Lustig on the Hacking of the American Mind

While researching the toxic and addictive properties of sugar for his New York Times bestseller Fat Chance, Dr. Robert Lustig, a neuroendocrinologist at UCSF, made an alarming discovery—our pursuit of happiness is being subverted by a culture of addiction, depression, and chronic disease from which we may never recover. In his new book, The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains, Dr. Lustig presents the fundamental differences between pleasure and happiness – at the biological and chemical level—and explains the way big business is taking advantage of advances in neuroscience to confuse and conflate pleasure with happiness, and getting into our heads.

The Hacking of the American Mind is a scientific investigation into modern manipulative practices, and the damage they cause. Pleasure is the result of stimulation of dopamine in the brain. It is fleeting and the direct result of an outside trigger. But it always leaves us wanting more. Happiness is the result of stimulation by serotonin, a different chemical that promotes a feeling of peace and calm, a state of serenity and satisfaction, where you don’t need any more, and you are good just where you are.

But all is not lost. There is nothing inherently wrong with pleasure, just not to the exclusion of happiness. Recognizing that these behaviors are the response rather than the cause is the first step. Dr. Lustig shows us that one can still cultivate happiness through experiences with family and friends, purposeful actions like volunteering, and eating a healthier diet focused on whole foods rather than those with added sugars.

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