Why Are Some People Always Happy and Others Not So Much?

by on September 1, 2016 · 1 comment

in Culture, Health, Life Events

Drugs: the Human Dilemma, Part 2

By John Lawrence

happy_people_jumpingIs there a balanced way to live so that chemicals released by the brain, which produce feelings of well being and happiness, can happen without addiction to drugs or exercise?

For some these endorphins seem to naturally produce ‘enough good feeling’ without their having to do anything more. For some the ‘happiness gene’ seems to be turned on at all times regardless of what happens in the events of their lives.

For others there is a deficiency that leads to a tendency for them to become alcoholics or drug addicts. A person’s natural energy level seems to have something to do with it. High energy people need to release that energy in non-sedentary pursuits or mitigate the effects of it like so-called ADHD with drugs.

From Psychology Today:

[There is] a cutting-edge theory among psychologists that we are genetically coded for a “set point” of happiness from birth, maybe even during the embryonic stages. Various proteins, hormones and brain neurotransmitters are thought to form a biochemical predisposition that interacts with one’s unfolding life.

Recent research has shown that no matter what the life event — scoring in the stock market or losing your most precious loved one — you will return to a certain level of well-being within six months to a year. Money, education, social class, marital status, race, gender and age seem to have little to do with it, these studies conclude.

[T]he set-point theory may help explain why some people just seem naturally cranky, even when life is full of good fortune, and why others seem content despite constant hardship.

“I made a sort of smart-aleck remark in a research paper that trying to be happier is like trying to be taller,” said David Lykken, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota and leading proponent of a happiness set point. “It got a lot of media play. Now I would like to recant the claim. Many personality traits will in fact develop from your unique human experiences, though it is all still elicited from your genetic makeup.”

In a book to be published early next year, Lykken argues that although we have permanent hard wiring for happiness, we can adjust our level of contentment by knowing what keeps us happy and what brings us down. He suggests that simple pleasures such as gardening, reading novels and baking bread can stretch one’s happiness potential. Taking pride in work is another highly effective strategy.

Ed Diener, a psychologist and researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is another pioneer of the happiness set point. He estimates that 50 percent of happiness is genetic and the other half is “modifiable within limits” by one’s life situation.

Life Is Not Fair. So What Else Is New?

If some people are naturally always happy due to their genetic inheritance, then this is just another indication that Life Is Not Fair. Where does this leave those who are naturally unhappy? Do they need to be drug users in order to reclaim a modicum of happiness?

The phenomenon of tolerance has to do with the fact that there is only a finite supply of endorphins or other happiness producing chemicals in the body at one time. It’s not the drug itself that produces the “high”; it’s the drug’s ability to release the endorphins already stored in the body. Once the drug (including exercise) releases the endorphins, then there is only a diminished supply left until the body builds them back up again.

The addict thinks, “Wow, that felt good when I put that drug in my body and now the effects have worn off so I’ll do it again.”

However, it now takes more of the drug to induce the same effect because there are fewer endorphins left until the use of the drug is stopped so that the endorphins can build up again. So a sensible drug user would allow for this fact, but the junkie keeps trying to induce the same effect until there are no endorphins left.

That’s why hard core heroin addicts are just injecting the drug, not to get high, but to keep from getting lower or keep from getting sick. This is why a balanced use of any drug allows time for the body to build its supply of endorphins back up again before the drug of choice is again ingested. Such balanced use would probably allow any drug user to lead a normal, functional life, and many have.

Where does this leave those who are naturally unhappy? Do they need to be drug users in order to reclaim a modicum of happiness?

The phenomenon of withdrawal takes place after a drug is used and the body is in the process of replenishing the endorphins. This is somewhat painful and balances with pain the pleasure already experienced from the drug high. Withdrawal provides an incentive for taking the drug again to overcome this pain, but the experience of taking the drug again only contributes to more pain further down the road and eventually to addiction. It seems that one must be willing to tolerate the pain associated with withdrawal in order for the body to recover and not slide downhill to addiction. This is what a hangover is all about.

Opioids

Doctors are prescribing opioids as pain killers. Opioids are natural or synthetic chemicals that bind to receptors in your brain or body. Common opioids include heroin and prescription drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl. When the prescription runs out, many people are turning to street drugs like heroin which accomplishes the same result and is actually cheaper.

OpioidsThe United States is in the midst of a prescription opioid overdose epidemic. In 2014, more than 28,000 people died from opioid overdose, and at least half of those deaths involved a prescription opioid. Many more became addicted to prescription and illegal opioids. Heroin-related deaths have also increased sharply, more than tripling since 2010. In 2014, more than 10,500 people died from heroin.

The musician, Prince, died of an opioid overdose—specifically from fentanyl, a synthetic opioid often prescribed to people who have built up a tolerance to oral opioids. Fentanyl is more potent than powerful drugs like OxyContin and is most commonly administered via a patch.

Prince suffered from debilitating hip and knee pain and got his drugs from his doctor, not a dealer. Some doctors are using alternative therapies and staying away from opioids. Doctors are trying alternative regimens that include nonnarcotic infusions and injections, ultrasound guided nerve blocks, laughing gas, even “energy healing” and a wandering harpist. Drug companies, however, are pushing doctors to continue prescribing their expensive drugs.

Learning to Live Without Drugs

In order to live without drugs, people need to learn to live a more natural life. This includes avoiding too much sedentariness. We are all physical animals. We need to be physically active more than we need to sit. The sitters compensate for their many ailments by taking drugs which allow them to tolerate a sedentary existence.

Voltaire wrote in Candide that one must “tend their own gardens”

Physical exercise not only strengthens the body; its strengthens the reservoirs of endorphins and other pleasure inducing chemicals in the brain. Therefore, when they need to be drawn upon to overcome pain and just for normally feeling good, they are there. Drug addicts overdraw these finite resources thinking that the source of their pleasure or relief from pain is the drug itself rather than the drug’s ability to release the body’s naturally occurring pleasure inducing chemicals.

The most important thing is moderation in all things as the Greek poet Hesiod said in 700 BC. The Roman comic dramatist Plautus (c.250–184 bc), also said ‘moderation in all things is the best policy.’ Voltaire said, “Let us tend our gardens.”

A few centuries later Professor Lykken quoted above said the same thing: “simple pleasures such as gardening, reading novels and baking bread can stretch one’s happiness potential.” We have to be willing to tolerate some bit of pain if necessary and not succumb to the temptation to use drugs under the false assumption that we can feel good at all times.

Voltaire wrote in Candide that one must “tend their own gardens” in order to avoid a life of either misery or boredom. The enlightened playwright and social critic Voltaire (1694-1778) concluded his satirical tale Candide (1759) with the observation that the violence and plunder of kings could not compare with the productive and peaceful life of those who minded their own business, “cultivated their own garden,” and traded the surpluses with their neighbors:

Candide, as he was returning home, made profound reflections on the Turk’s discourse. “This good old man,” said he to Pangloss and Martin, “appears to me to have chosen for himself a lot much preferable to that of the six kings with whom we had the honor to sup.” … “Neither need you tell me,” said Candide, “that we must take care of our garden.” “You are in the right,” said Pangloss; “for when man was put into the garden of Eden, it was with an intent to dress it: and this proves that man was not born to be idle.” “Work then without disputing,” said Martin; “it is the only way to render life supportable.”

Can so-called negative addictions be replaced by positive ones? We seem to have cases that show that they can as well as cases that start out as positive addictions and end up being negative ones.

Is everyone diagnosed with ADHD mentally ill? Only within the confines of social situations that they are not cut out for. Should everyone go to college and sit at a desk job all day? Thom Hartmann says not if you are a “hunter” rather than a “farmer.”

People need coaching with life situations including those who cannot afford a “life coach.” This should be one of the services the public education system provides so that society does not end up with an overload of misfits, drug addicts and inmates.

Those who are naturally high due to their genetic endowment are indeed among the most fortunate. Those not constructed in that way should know there are alternatives and strategies including the moderate use of drugs that can alleviate a lot of their pain and put them on a better course through life. But for most people some pain is an inevitable part of life. Need I say it again – life is not fair.

Part 1 can be found here.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Avatar Rusty K September 2, 2016 at 9:24 pm

Here we have stunningly clear thinking combining with commonsense compassion to produce a very convincing vision of how to comprehend “problems” like drugs, ADHD, “too much” sex, etc. It certainly expanded my capacity to understand and deal with these societal currents.

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