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The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains Hardcover – Illustrated, September 12, 2017
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—David Perlmutter, MD, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Grain Brain and Brain Maker
“A provocative, persuasive plea to stop seeking the wrong kind of happiness. Take it from the neuroscientist/endocrinologist who sounded the alarm about sugar: chasing rewards is far less rewarding than finding contentment.”
—Adam Grant, author of New York Times bestsellers Originals and Give and Take, and coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Option B
"Robert Lustig takes on one of the greatest paradoxes of our time: how can it be that we have more sources of pleasure than ever before in human history, and yet are increasingly sick, broke, and unhappy? By deftly weaving together neuroscience, history, economics, and more, he provides a much-needed explanation of how the 'pernicious peddling of pleasure' causes real happiness to elude so many of us — and also provides a desperately needed roadmap for escaping the pleasure trap."
—Sharon Begley, coauthor of the New York Times best seller The Emotional Life of Your Brain
"Pleasure and happiness are not the same thing – as our addictions to everything from unhealthy food to cellphones show. In this book, Dr. Lustig unpacks the science of pleasure versus happiness to explain the true causes of the last 40 years of addiction, depression, and disease. The good news is that the solution is easy — well, maybe not so easy — put down your cellphone. And sleep. You’ll be happier, and you’ll live longer!"
—Arianna Huffington, author of the New York Times best seller The Sleep Revolution
"Dr. Robert Lustig examines our culture of illness, an industry-created fog that, despite our best efforts to cope, has left us stressed, isolated, addicted, and depressed. With The Hacking of the American Mind, he empowers us with the science of mind, brain, and love in a delightful, insightful, and humorous way. You can live by pursuing pleasure, sugar-coated as 'happiness,' or you can read this book."
—Elissa Epel, coauthor of the New York Times best seller The Telomere Effect
About the Author
- Publisher : Avery; Illustrated edition (September 12, 2017)
- Language: : English
- Hardcover : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1101982586
- ISBN-13 : 978-1101982587
- Item Weight : 1.23 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #215,986 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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His motivation for “writing the book began 30 years ago, while still a postdoctoral fellow in neuroscience at Rockefeller University. There, he learned about the interaction between dopamine and serotonin in the brain. At the time, only basic correlational data existed, but there appeared to be a very specific interaction going on between these two neurochemicals.
The book discusses how many try to bolster their happiness through certain food choices, but this actually does not work, and Lustig provides compelling arguments that the foods you crave drive up dopamine and drive down serotonin. Rather, it’s experiences that make you happy. People can make you happy. You can make yourself happy. In his book, Lustig outlines a number of different strategies to become happier. Ultimately, the goal is [to increase] your serotonin,” he says. There are four ways to boost your serotonin, and they’re all free. They’re also things your grandmother likely told you to do. First and foremost is making human connections.
Social media generate dopamine, associated with pleasure, and hence can drive addiction. The main problem is that when dopamine goes up, serotonin goes down. So, online communication is actually a major causative factor of unhappiness. Lustig also elaborates on how companies — both food manufacturers and electronics companies — capitalize on the biology of dopamine versus serotonin to get us addicted to their products.
It’s important to realize that the dopamine (or reward-generating) pathway is the same no matter what your source of pleasure is. It can be a substance, such as nicotine, alcohol, heroin or junk food; or it can be behavior, such as internet surfing, shopping or pornography. The problem, in a nutshell, is that dopamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter, and in excess is neurotoxic. When dopamine is released, and the neuron on the other side accepts the signal, it can damage that neuron. Over time, excitatory neurotransmitters can cause cell death. To protect itself from damage, the postsynaptic neuron employs a self-protective mechanism — it downregulates its receptors.
By having fewer receptors, the dopamine cannot do as much damage. So, each time you get a “hit” or rush of dopamine, the number of receptors decrease. As a result, you need increasingly larger doses or “hits” to get the same rush. Eventually, you end up with tolerance, a state where even a large dose produces no effect. Once the neurons start to actually die off, you’re a full-blown addict. Serotonin, on the other hand, is not an excitatory neurotransmitter. When it acts on the serotonin-1a receptor (the “contentment” receptor), no damage occurs. Hence, happiness does not lead to addictive behavior. Keep in mind that dopamine downregulates serotonin, so it’s basically impossible to achieve happiness (related to serotonin) through pleasure-seeking behavior (related to dopamine).
One of the cheapest pleasures that stimulates dopamine is sugar. Many reach for sweet junk food when they feel down, thinking it’ll help them feel better, but neurochemical science reveals this simply cannot happen. Add the stress hormone cortisol to the mix, which downregulates the serotonin-1a receptor, and you have a recipe for both addiction and depression. That’s what we’re seeing throughout all of civilized society, not just in America, but around the world. There are three other ways, besides connecting, that boost serotonin and happiness. The remaining three of the four C’s are:
1. Contribute: Meaning the act of contributing to something greater than yourself; making a contribution to society. “You can get happiness and contentment from your job, but there are certain criteria that have to be met,” Lustig says. “Most people, unfortunately, have a boss who is not contributing to their happiness. The workplace is not usually the best place to achieve meaningful contentment.”
2. Cope: Lack of sleep, insufficient exercise and multitasking are all causes of unhappiness. Sleep is extremely important for healthy serotonin production. Here, avoiding exposure to electronic screens is important, as blue light inhibits melatonin production, thereby making sleep more elusive. Electronics will also disrupt your sleep and deteriorate your health by exposing you to unnecessary microwaves, discussed in this recent article on depression.
3. Cook: If you cook, you’re likely going to increase your tryptophan, reduce your refined sugar intake, and increase your omega-3 fats (anti-inflammatory) and fiber. Overall, this will result in improved gut health, which has tremendous impact on your mood and mental health.
How do you boost systemic tryptophan? One of the keys is to eat real food, and to make sure you include high-tryptophan foods, the highest of which is egg whites. You also need omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, which is a component of every cell in your body. More than 90 percent of the omega-3 fat found in brain tissue is DHA.
So, how do you boost systemic tryptophan? One of the keys is to eat real food, and to make sure you include high-tryptophan foods, the highest of which is egg whites. You also need omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, which is a component of every cell in your body. More than 90 percent of the omega-3 fat found in brain tissue is DHA. Omega-3s are probably the single most beneficial thing you can put in your body. They are anti-inflammatory. They are anti-Alzheimer’s. They increase membrane fluidity. Therefore, they increase neuronal distensibility, which means it’s less likely that any given neuron will die.
The problem, of course, is that when we took the fat out of the food, we took ALL the fat out of the food. It’s been a real chore to get the medical cognoscenti to turn around on this. I do want to do a shout out to the American Heart Association, because they have now debunked their long-standing cholesterol-fat hypothesis. They now recognize that saturated fat was not the demon they made it out to be, and that there are seven classes of fats, and that you actually have to consume omega-3s. You have to consume monounsaturated fats. In fact, you do have to consume some saturated fat because it’s a major component of membranes.
Processed fructose, mostly in the form of corn syrup, has become a major contributor to the $3 trillion health care budget in the United States, and there’s clear data linking sugar consumption to de novo lipogenesis — a disease process associated with fat accumulation in the liver, causing insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, metabolic syndrome and associated diseases. That includes Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, lipid problems, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia.
In the past, people had a much better understanding of happiness and pleasure. Lustig’s book describes how these terms have been purposely conflated and confused by businesses and governments because it helped sales. To turn the trends of addiction around, you have to understand the difference between the two.
So, what’s the difference between pleasure and happiness? There are seven differences: Pleasure is visceral; happiness is ethereal. Pleasure is short-term; happiness is long-term. Pleasure is usually achieved alone; happiness is usually achieved in social groupings. Pleasure is taking; happiness is giving. Pleasure can be achieved with substances; happiness cannot be achieved with substances. The extremes of pleasure all lead to addiction, whereas there is no such thing as being addicted to happiness. Finally, pleasure is dopamine and happiness is serotonin.
Understanding the difference between the two is something, for some reason, that the American public just never got. We have to make them get it in order to turn this problem around. Academics don’t get it. Businesses don’t get it.
The federal government certainly doesn’t get it. We have to make them get it. That’s why this book is so crucial. This book will help you understand the distinction between dopamine, serotonin and the variables that help optimize these neurotransmitters. Most importantly, the way he explains it all has the power motivate healthy behavior. The bottom line is it’s about the science. There will be detractors who will say this is garbage. But the bottom line is there are 600 references to the primary literature to demonstrate that this is not gobbledygook. The science actually predicts the phenomena that we see and the society we’ve become.
I would add that the key to benefit from this book is not to think that you already understand that sentence. Yes, it does sound like a vaguely new-ageish truism, but it most certainly is not.
Lustig redefines pleasure and happiness from neurological and endocrinological perspectives. I was familiar with most of the concepts that he uses, but the combination was still a revelation and it had an instant effect. I haven't read many books that have changed my behaviour within 24 hours.
This is a very important book, so it doesn't matter at all that it isn't perfect. I didn't find Lustig's own recommendations for behaviour change very convincing or useful. For me his scientific philosophy was more actionable than his practical advice. I also felt that his political views had a strong content but a relatively weak presentation. The headline point of "the corporate takeover" would have benefited from deeper analysis, but Lustig is a doctor, not a political scientist.
Nevertheless, The Hacking of the American Mind has the potential to clarify and rearrange some core elements of our cultural self-image. The book already un-hacked my mind quite effectively. If there is a way to give higher praise, I don't know it.
Top reviews from other countries
I've given it 5 stars because those parts are a relatively small part of the book, and in some cases, it is possible to detect a similar influence of major companies and lobby organisations in the UK. And the rest of the book deserves 5 stars for a UK audience. (Or for any country where the environment favours cortisol and dopamine at the expense of serotonin!)
As would be expected from this author, it (rightly) condemns over-use of sugar! But those parts are a minority of the book, which is mostly a much broader analysis and criticism of the cynical manipulation of our emotions for corporate profit and political votes.
The book is easy to read, while being science-rich with over 30 pages of citations at the end. The last 4 chapters are a search for improvement: Connect, Contribute, Cope, Cook. It is a sad condemnation of our environment that those chapters are necessary, rather than simply being taken for granted, as earlier generations probably did.
We can individually try to protect ourselves, after learning from this book what is being done to us. It is harder to see that the tide will be turned at national levels, but this book will at least provide some ammunition.