Summary -Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, & Endorphin Levels  - Loretta Graziano Breuning PhD

Summary -Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, & Endorphin Levels - Loretta Graziano Breuning PhD


• Your brain is focused on survival because it evolved to help your ancestors survive and reproduce.

• Even though you are safe from immediate threats, your brain scans for potential dangers and rewards.

• Your brain wires itself based on experiences, especially in early childhood. It connects good feelings to things that seem suitable for survival and bad feelings to things that seem inadequate.

• These connections don’t always match your survival needs because a young child has limited insight into long-term survival.

• Your core neurochemical responses are built by age seven based on a child’s limited understanding of the world.

• You end up with responses that feel automatic but are built on limited life experience. They can be rewired with conscious effort based on your current understanding.

The key takeaway is that while your brain’s responses feel automatic, they are built by your experiences, especially in childhood. They can be reshaped as adults to better match your current needs and understanding. But it takes conscious effort and practices to build new neural pathways and weaken old ones.

Your brain has two parts that work together:

  1. The limbic system, which produces feelings to motivate survival behaviors. It releases dopamine, endorphin, oxytocin, and serotonin, which make you feel good when you do something good for your survival.

  2. The cortex, which makes sense of information and can override the limbic system. But the cortex depends on the limbic system to activate happy chemicals.

These brain parts evolved and are shared with other animals, but humans have a vast cortex. The limbic system is common to all mammals and controls feelings. The cortex is the largest in humans and handles abstract thinking.

Your limbic system builds neural pathways based on your life experiences. When your senses detect something, your brain sends an electrical signal down these pathways, determining how you react. Repetition and neurochemicals strengthen these pathways into habits and instincts.

So your reactions are unique to you, even though all humans share the same essential survival equipment. Your trails, built from your experiences, shape how situations make you feel.

  • Your reactions and habits are guided by the neural pathways you have built over your lifetime. These pathways determine what you like and dislike.

  • Familiar pathways are easy to follow but can lead to unhealthy behaviors and unhappiness. It is hard to build new ways as an adult.

  • To build new pathways, you need repetition of new experiences and behaviors that stimulate happy chemicals in your brain. This is difficult but necessary to change unhealthy habits.

  • Your brain seeks happy chemicals to avoid unhappiness, creating a vicious cycle. Triggers like food, sex, drugs, alcohol, anger, and thrill-seeking can temporarily relieve painful feelings but lead to side effects that cause more unhappiness, perpetuating the cycle.

  • The key to breaking vicious cycles is resisting the urge to relieve unhappy feelings immediately. Sitting with discomfort and avoiding unhealthy triggers can help build new neural pathways over time that lead to lasting happiness and healthy habits.

  • Common vicious cycles involve constantly seeking external stimulation or thrills, approval from others, escaping problems, rescuing people, overeating, or substance abuse. The processes begin as a way to relieve unhappiness but end up causing more.

  • Stop a vicious cycle by resisting the urge to react to unhappy feelings immediately. This isn't easy, but it allows new neural pathways to form. Over time, the desire to repeat unhealthy behaviors will fade.

In summary, you must build healthy habits and endure discomfort to escape unhealthy vicious cycles. Choosing new experiences that sustainably stimulate happiness can rewire your neural guidance system. But change requires awareness, repetition, and patience.

• You can’t directly control another person’s brain and happiness. Each person has to manage their thought patterns and neurochemistry.

• Love feels good because it helps ensure the survival and reproduction of our genes. The brain chemicals associated with love - dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, endorphins, and cortisol - motivate behaviors that lead to reproductive success.

• Dopamine motivates the pursuit of a mate and rewards us when we achieve it. Oxytocin stimulates feelings of trust, bonding, and intimacy. Serotonin makes us feel good when we associate with higher-status individuals. Endorphins are produced by physical pain, laughing, and crying - all of which are part of relationships. And cortisol helps us transition from lost connections by making them less painful.

• Love is challenging because it requires transitioning from childlike dependence to mature independence and interdependence. Our earliest brain circuits expect constant caregiving, so mature relationships may never fully satisfy that expectation.

• Finding a mate and reproducing was complex and uncertain for our ancestors, so strong emotions evolved to motivate those behaviors. Even small perceived rejections or losses can trigger strong neurochemical reactions because of how critical relationships and reproduction are to survival.

• Expectations for relationships and the role of romantic love have changed over time. Historically, the primary focus was on reproduction, whereas now we want romantic love to last a lifetime.

• There are ups and downs to love because while it feels good when needs are met, it can be painful when conditions aren't satisfied or relationships change or end. But some pain also serves a purpose in relationships by helping us adapt.

Dopamine is stimulated by rewards that meet your needs, but the specific tips that enable your dopamine to depend on your unique life experiences. For example:

• Marathon runners feel dopamine surging as they approach the finish line. Crossing the line meets their need for accomplishment and mastery.

• Football players feel dopamine when they score, meeting their need for social status and victory.

• Apes feel dopamine when they find fruit, meeting their food needs. The first taste of food triggers extra dopamine, which builds neural connections, so seeing that food stimulates dopamine again in the future.

• Computer games stimulate dopamine by rewarding you with points your mind links to social rewards. The games tap into your brain’s seek-and-find mechanism, and each tip triggers more dopamine to keep you playing.

• Cocaine stimulates an unnaturally high level of dopamine without requiring real-world rewards or accomplishments. This rewires the brain to depend on the drug instead of natural tips.

• Dopamine surges for big potential rewards, like a mother lifting a car to save her child. Dopamine unleashes her reserve energy without conscious thought.

• Dopamine declines over time as you habituate to a reward. Your brain saves dopamine for new tips that meet current needs. Switching ends can trigger rage due to the loss of expected dopamine.

• Whatever triggered your dopamine when you were young built neural pathways that continue stimulating your dopamine today. Your life experiences shape your brain’s definition of rewards.

In summary, dopamine is fleeting and constantly declining, so you must keep seeking and finding rewards to stimulate more dopamine. But the specific tips that motivate you depend on how your unique experiences built your dopamine circuits.

  • Dopamine makes the quest for rewards feel good. Our ancestors always sought more to meet their needs, and dopamine fueled their efforts. We have learned to associate dopamine with any material, social or internal reward.

  • Endorphin masks physical pain for a short time. It evolved to help injured animals escape threats and reach safety. Endorphin does not always make us feel good - pain has value as a survival signal. Endorphin is only released in spurts, e.g., during intense exercise, laughter, or crying. It did not evolve to motivate self-inflicted pain or to mask social pain.

  • Oxytocin creates feelings of trust, belonging, and safety. It rewards social alliances that promote survival. Oxytocin motivates mammals to leave their group for reproductive opportunities. Oxytocin surges during childbirth and when caring for offspring, cementing the mother-infant bond.

  • Adrenaline causes arousal and prepares us for action but does not directly cause happiness. It amplifies the effect of other neurochemicals, whether positive or negative. Adrenaline junkies seek the rush of energy from perceived threats, not pain itself.

To summarize, dopamine makes rewards feel good and motivates seeking behavior. Endorphin briefly masks physical pain to aid survival. Oxytocin creates positive social feelings of trust and bonding. Adrenaline arouses us for action but does not directly cause happiness. Our neurochemicals evolved for survival, not constant euphoria. We are designed to notice both rewards and threats, not mask them. But in the proper doses, dopamine, endorphin, and oxytocin stimulate moments of happiness and well-being.

• Oxytocin is the neurotransmitter responsible for social bonding and attachment. It makes social interactions feel excellent and rewarding.

• Oxytocin is stimulated by touch, physical proximity, and protecting/caring for others. This leads to the formation of social alliances and long-term relationships.

• Betrayal of trust leads to a drop in oxytocin and avoidance of those individuals. We learn who we can trust over time based on the neurochemical reactions they evoke.

• Serotonin is stimulated by gaining respect and social dominance. It feels good to assert control over resources and social hierarchies. However, conflict should be avoided since it is linked to pain.

• We regularly switch between dominant and subordinate positions to maintain relationships. Someone must take the lead in ambiguous social situations.

• An alpha individual's serotonin drops if they do not receive the expected submission signals from their subordinates. Dominance gestures are meant to elicit submission gestures from others.

• In summary, oxytocin and serotonin are responsible for the good feelings we get from social interactions, relationships, status, and respect. But they also motivate behaviors that are sometimes seen as selfish or irrational. Our mammal brains drive us to do what feels good at the moment.

The man's serotonin levels kept dropping, and he became increasingly agitated. He needed others to submit to him to boost his serotonin backup.

Serotonin is related to social dominance and the expectation of getting one's needs met. All animals, even single-celled ones like amoebas, use serotonin to approach potential food sources and prepare to consume them. In social animals like mammals, serotonin signifies the safety and security of resource access. Dominant animals typically have the most access, so acts of dominance are rewarded with a serotonin boost.

However, too much aggression can be dangerous, so social animals must cooperate and get along with others in their group. A balance of assertion and restraint is required. Each individual tracks the social hierarchy to know when it is safe to pursue resources and mating opportunities and when to defer to a dominant group member.

While we often attribute altruism and cooperation to animals, their primary drives are feeding, reproduction, and promoting the survival of their genes. Apparent acts of generosity usually benefit the animal, even if indirectly. Social dominance and submission are resource access strategies, not good or bad character indicators.

Our human brains are descended from those of social mammals, so we inherit the same motivations and reward systems. We constantly track our social status and opportunities to assert ourselves in safe ways that boost serotonin. However, we also value social bonds and cooperation, so balancing these motivations is an ongoing challenge. Expecting continual admiration and validation from others often leads to disappointment. Recognizing our primary mammalian causes can help us develop more realistic expectations and appropriate strategies for meeting our social and resource needs.

• Social dominance and socioeconomic status are different. A person can feel dominant without being wealthy or of high quality. Feelings of respect and serotonin depend on a person's expectations and perceptions, not objective factors.

• Antidepressants like Prozac increase serotonin levels, but serotonin's role in happiness is complex. Animals show dominance-seeking behaviors are linked to good feelings, but these behaviors do not necessarily lead to happiness. Neurochemicals activate for specific reasons and then deactivate to start again when needed. Unhappy chemicals remain to alert us to threats.

• Unhappy chemicals like cortisol are an evolutionary survival mechanism. They make us feel bad to focus our attention on avoiding harm. Cortisol is the body's emergency alert system. It creates feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress to motivate the avoidance of pain.

• Cortisol associates the events preceding pain so we can recognize threats early. Sometimes these associations are inaccurate, as in the case of the girl who panicked at the sound of laughter due to associating it with a traumatic car accident. But cortisol circuits help ensure survival without the need for rational thought.

• Painful memories endure because they promote survival. For example, remembering that a particular berry is poisonous helps ensure we avoid eating it, even if we're starving. Our cortisol reactions feel disproportionate today because they evolved for harsher ancestral conditions. Modern annoyances trigger a sense of life-threatening urgency.

• Cortisol makes the present feel worse relative to an imagined past. We have little direct experience of our ancestors' hardships, so we don't feel the same doom thinking about them. People who say life is awful today are trying to validate the threatened feelings cortisol creates in response to minor modern annoyances. But the world does not collapse as our cortisol suggests.

  • We inherit fears from our elders but also build our threat-detection systems based on our experiences. Each generation challenges the concerns of previous generations but also learns from them.

  • Our brains generalize from past pains and threats. We anticipate future threats efficiently, even if the odds of harm are very low. This can lead to stress, anxiety, fear, and panic.

  • Mammals form social groups to increase safety, but social groups also trigger social pain and threats to social bonds. We monitor our group mates closely.

  • Mirror neurons allow us to feel the pain and rewards of others by watching them. This builds empathy but also means we can suffer from watching others suffer.

  • Social groups build a shared sense of threat. We feel pressure to empathize with our group's fears and pains to maintain social bonds. Failing to do so can threaten those bonds.

  • There is a constant tension between individuality and group membership. Although we know our survival is not literally at stake, our brain's responses to social threats feel intense.

  • Growing up involves facing threats without the protection of parents and elders. This brings cortisol surges and the pain of lost social support. Becoming independent is an inevitable part of development.

  • In summary, our brains have evolved to anticipate threats, feel social pain, and balance group membership and individuality. This leads to stress and anxiety, even when actual harm is unlikely. But these mechanisms also allow us to learn, empathize, and survive. The key is learning to manage them.

Here is a summary of social support:

• Social support refers to the emotional, practical, informational, and companionship assistance provided by loved ones and a person's social network members.

• Social support has significant physiological and psychological benefits. It helps reduce stress and increases happiness, life satisfaction, and well-being. Lack of social support is associated with higher mortality rates and worse health outcomes.

• We are born with an innate need for social bonds due to our long period of human development and vulnerability as infants. Attention from caregivers is critical for infant survival and growth. Early experiences of social support shape our lifelong social needs and coping abilities.

• Social pain, like exclusion, rejection, and lack of attention, activates the same neural pathways as physical pain. Our brains interpret threats to social bonds as threats to our survival. We constantly seek social rewards and compare our status to others.

• Social support provides a buffer against life stressors and social pain. Close relationships, community ties, and perceived adequacy of social support all contribute to a person's ability to cope with difficulties.

• There are many ways to build your social support network. Developing close relationships, connecting to your community, learning good communication skills, maintaining existing ties, and seeking professional help if needed can all help foster social connections and support.

• Finding purpose and meaning in life, engaging in acts of kindness, and practicing positive psychology interventions can also increase your social well-being and support for others. Giving and receiving help is mutually beneficial.

According to the summary, that covers the essential highlights related to social support. Please let me know if you would like me to explain anything in the summary in more detail.

  • Cows build neural connections between herd mates and feelings of pain or reward. This guides their social behavior as they avoid or interact with different individuals. Cows are slow to update these connections, so their status hierarchy remains stable.

  • Primates with bigger brains frequently challenge the status hierarchy. They form alliances to threaten rivals. Each primate tracks its status relative to others. When the order changes, their brains rewire to reflect the new status rankings.

  • Status seeking and caring about your children’s status produces happy chemicals in our brains. When quality is overlooked, unhappy chemicals are released. Our feelings about situations depend on our experiences and expectations, not objective circumstances.

  • We tell ourselves status doesn’t matter, but our brains constantly monitor status. When expectations are exceeded, we feel good. When disappointed, it feels threatening. We all want to feel special.

  • Comparing ourselves to others and monitoring status differences is innate. It helps us avoid dangerous conflicts. Unhappy chemicals inhibit the urge to dominate, allowing group cooperation. But they still feel bad.

  • The human cortex can activate threat circuits internally by imagining future threats. We seek threats to feel safe, getting dopamine boosts when we find them. But this roller coaster makes us feel bad frequently, even when succeeding.

  • The big human cortex builds long chains of associations from limited experiences. We can imagine distant disasters and a world without us. This is distressing, so we prefer imagining the world ending with us.

  • Feeling important relieves distress. We selectively seek facts confirming what our mammal brain already believes, like the world falling apart. The cortex provides logical explanations for the feelings of our mammal brain.

• Your brain releases happy chemicals like dopamine when you experience something new and rewarding. But these chemicals are reabsorbed quickly, so the feeling fades.

• Your brain is constantly scanning for threats and rewards. Even after a happy event, it will start searching again and finding things to worry about.

• The fading of happy feelings motivates you to seek out new sources of reward and survival. But it also leaves you vulnerable to frustration and disappointment.

• Early life experiences built neural pathways that generate strong expectations. But as information becomes familiar, it does not stimulate the same strong reactions. So life often feels lacking compared to your earliest memories and experiences.

• An example is enjoying the smell of coffee beans when you first enter a shop but then noticing the scent fades quickly as your brain adapts to the familiar stimulus.

• The critical point is that happiness tends to be temporary and cyclical. Your brain is designed to seek rewards and avoid threats to ensure survival. But this also means constantly searching for more and adapting to what was once novel and stimulating.

  • Dopamine is triggered by rewards and seeking new information. However, it leads to disappointment when the thrill fades due to habituation.

  • The brain constantly seeks the initial thrill of dopamine, known as “chasing the first high.” This leads to repeating behaviors to recreate that thrill, even with negative consequences.

  • Dopamine flows while seeking a reward but drops once the reward is obtained. This is why activities like shopping, gaming, and collecting stimulate dopamine - there is a constant seeking.

  • Dopamine fuels accomplishment and long-term projects by motivating the frustrating parts. However, dopamine drops once the goal is achieved, leading to feeling let down.

  • Travel stimulates dopamine through exposure to new experiences and rewards. However, the thrill fades as habituation sets in and daily life resume.

The key is understanding how dopamine works to build healthy habits and set realistic expectations for happiness. Dopamine will always lead to some disappointment, but this can be managed by focusing on the meaning and purpose behind goals and rewards rather than chasing temporary highs. Moderation and balance are key.

Our brains release dopamine when we achieve a goal or reward, but the excitement fades quickly as we habituate. This is known as dopamine disappointment. Our brains are designed this way, so we continue pursuing new tips and goals. For example, the thrill of new romantic love fades over time as we get used to our partner. It can become a vicious cycle if we continually chase new romantic partners to experience that thrill.

Endorphin disappointment occurs when the euphoric feeling from exercise, laughter, or pain relief fades. Endorphin is meant as an emergency system to mask pain, not provide constant happiness briefly. Repeatedly inflicting pain to experience an endorphin rush leads to a destructive cycle that requires more and more pain.

Oxytocin disappointment happens when the good feeling from social bonds and relationships fades. While oxytocin encourages us to form relationships, the feeling dissipates, so we stay alert to social threats and don’t blindly trust. However, for some people, the urge to sustain oxytocin leads to unhealthy alliances and the choice between two dangers. For example, people may remain in abusive relationships or join violent groups like gangs to avoid the oxytocin drop and feel a sense of belonging. But this often exposes them to more harm.

In summary, our happy chemicals are meant to fluctuate. Chasing a constant high from them leads to disappointment and unhealthy behaviors. The hang is natural and helps us respond to reality. We can cultivate sustainable happiness by forming meaningful goals and relationships, not just chasing temporary thrills.

Here is a summary of the key points on internal aggression:

• Social animals often stick together in groups despite facing aggression and conflict from within the group. They do this because the threat of external attacks, such as predation, is even more significant. It is a trade-off between internal and external threats.

• This is seen in herd animals like zebras and elephants, where individuals face aggression from other herd members but stay with the group to avoid predators. It is also seen in social carnivores like lions and wolves that hunt together.

• In humans, this tendency manifests in dysfunctional relationships like abusive relationships or gangs, where people stay despite facing internal aggression because they fear the external threat of isolation even more. They become trapped in a vicious cycle.

• Oxytocin causes people to bond with and seek acceptance from groups, but that good feeling fades over time, leading people to seek it again in a repeating cycle. People tend to bond with those similar to themselves, like eaters with eaters or shoppers with shoppers.

• While oxytocin droops are uncomfortable, they serve an evolutionary purpose by enabling us to evaluate our social alliances objectively and make good survival decisions. Too much trust in a group can be threatening. We are meant to balance social needs with individual needs.

• The quest for social status and respect also follows this cycle. When we gain quality care, it activates our serotonin system temporarily. But as that good feeling fades, we seek more class and care to start it again. This can drive both positive and negative behaviors.

• In summary, the brain's reward systems push us to seek good feelings like trust, belonging, and status, but in a cyclical fashion that can become vicious without conscious effort to break the cycle. We must learn to tolerate the discomfort of oxytocin and serotonin droops to make objective decisions and find balance.

• Our brains seek serotonin in ways that have worked before, even if those ways no longer serve us well. We get disappointed when we don't get the "happy chemicals" we expect.

• We often blame external factors for our disappointments instead of recognizing our brain's habits. This happens in all areas of life, from relationships to work.

• Rescuing others and seeking status are common ways people try to boost their serotonin. But the good feelings from these strategies are short-lived, leading people to repeat them in a vicious cycle.

• Social status-seeking is a survival instinct in humans and other mammals. We constantly compare ourselves to others and feel threatened when we perceive our status as dropping.

• Serotonin disappointment can be healthy if we learn to manage it rather than flee from it. We must recognize the habits and expectations that set us up for disappointment.

• Our "happy habits" are ways we've learned to make ourselves feel good that often involve distraction. They become addictive because our brains expect relief from them. Breaking habits is hard because they tap into our primal survival instincts.

• Distraction works as a habit because it interrupts negative thought loops, even if it's not an actual solution. But practices build on themselves, leading to more significant side effects.

• The key is recognizing our habits and managing disappointment healthily rather than repeating cycles that don't serve us. We need to build new habits to replace old ones.

Here are the main points summarized:

  • Experience insulates young neurons by building myelin, a fatty coating that efficiently makes neural connections. This happens early in life, so circuits built then are hard to change later.

  • Experience makes synapses, the connections between neurons, more efficient. Repeated use of a synapse strengthens it, making the associated mental process feel effortless. Emotional experiences can build synapses instantly.

  • Neurons that fire together wire together. When neurons activate simultaneously in response to an experience, they form connections. This linking of neural activations shapes how we perceive and respond to the world.

  • Unused synapses wither away, while used synapses thrive. Neural connections we don’t use regularly weaken or disappear, while those we use frequently become stronger. This is how experience shapes the brain.

  • New synapses form most readily in response to novel experiences, especially in childhood and adolescence. Our brains evolve to learn from new experiences early in life readily. This ability declines with age but can still be tapped into.

The key points relate to how our experiences, incredibly repetitive and emotional ones, physically shape our neural connections and the strengths and weaknesses of those connections. Our early experiences have a very profound impact, for better and worse. But we retain some ability to rewire our brains throughout life if we understand how neural connections form and actively work to build new ones.

• Learning a foreign language relies on building new neural connections through repetition and emotion. Romantic words can be learned quickly due to emotion, but proper verb conjugation requires repetitive practice.

• Emotions create solid neural connections by releasing neurochemicals. Past emotional experiences have already made synaptic connections that will reactivate more quickly in the future. For example, a fearful experience with popcorn on an airplane made me have a solid aversion to eating popcorn on planes.

• Neural connections that are not used will weaken and prune away, especially in early childhood. Pruning helps focus the brain on the most used links. By age 8, new relationships are harder to form, so we rely more on existing relationships. Our experiences shape which relationships are strengthened and which are pruned.

• New connections form between neurons that are frequently activated together. These connections represent links between ideas, thoughts, and concepts. The relationships we form are based on our individual experiences.

• Neuroreceptors for various neurotransmitters will grow or weaken based on how much they are used. Frequently used receptors will increase, allowing us to process those feelings more easily. Infrequently used receptors will weaken. We must continue to activate "happy" receptors or lose them.

• Although we have automatic reactions based on our neural connections, we also have free will in the form of our prefrontal cortex. Our cortex can inhibit impulsive reactions and shift our attention and thoughts. We can redirect the flow of electricity in our brains. Our choices about where to focus our attention and which thoughts or reactions to pursue shape our experience of free will.

• Our attention is limited, so we must choose where to focus it for the best chance of survival. Familiar neural pathways require little attention, while new thoughts or reactions require a greater focus of attention. We always decide how best to allocate our mental resources for optimal functioning.

• You have an impulse to call your mother and not to call. You have to inhibit one impulse and act on the other. This is the same for apes deciding whether to grab food or avoid danger.

• Humans have more neurons to consider and generate new possibilities, especially in the prefrontal cortex. But without directing our attention, we follow the path of least resistance.

• We build survival circuits through repetition and emotion, not through conscious education. Babies learn by observing their mothers and seeking rewards like food and social interaction. This makes the neural pathways they need to survive.

• Chimps spend years learning to crack nuts through trial and error to get the reward. Their mothers don't teach them directly. They learn through seeking tips and avoiding pain.

• We build social skills similarly by observing interactions and mirroring emotions. We seek rewards like feeling good around others and avoiding pain like fear or rejection.

• These circuits are built in childhood through neurochemical responses, not through conscious intent. Experiences that trigger strong neurochemical responses or are repeated build lasting circuits. Courses created in youth are especially enduring.

• Our passions and habits come from these built circuits, even if they no longer promote survival. We follow the neural paths made to seek rewards and avoid pain in our youth.

• We have many neurons to build circuits through experience, not rely on inborn knowledge. But once created, we tend to rely on and trust these circuits.

• Childhood is long in humans, so we have time to build neural networks through experience. The length of childhood corresponds to the size of the cortex. We need time to adapt our neural connections to our environment.

• These childhood circuits are hard to change once built because we come to rely on them, even if they no longer serve us well.

• Your childhood experiences shaped your brain's reward and avoidance circuits. These circuits guide your behavior as an adult, even if you're unaware.

• As a child, your brain learns through repetition and emotion. Anything that triggered a good feeling, like respect or acceptance, got wired in as useful for survival. Behaviors that avoided bad feelings also got wired in.

• Your social learning shaped your expectations for relationships and your self-management skills. Your brain learns from the responses of those around you, not parenting advice.

• As an adolescent, your brain undergoes increased myelination, cementing earlier circuits. Threats or rewards during this time made a lasting impression.

• You can remodel your brain's pathways as an adult, but it requires repetition and emotion. Emotion works fast but often has unintended side effects. Repetition works slowly but can build new tracks with fewer side effects.

• With insight into your patterns, you can redirect unhelpful pathways toward more valuable connections. You can never delete old ways, but you can build new ones.

That covers the key points on how childhood experiences shaped your brain, how social learning built your expectations, and how you can remodel pathways as an adult. Let me know if you wantwant me to clarify or expand on any summary part.

To increase dopamine, try the following habits:

• Celebrate small victories and accomplishments, even minor ones. Don’t diminish them by apologizing for their triviality. Enjoy the feeling of success, even if briefly. Recognizing progress triggers dopamine.

• Take small steps toward a new goal each day, even if just for 10 minutes. This builds momentum and progress, releasing dopamine. It’s more effective than just fantasizing about the plan.

• Take action rather than just dreaming or wishing. Devote time each day to concrete steps that move you forward. Repeat this for 45 days to make it a habit.

• Break up unpleasant or dreaded tasks into small, manageable parts. Don’t feel overwhelmed. Checking off each piece releases dopamine to keep you motivated.

• Do something kind for someone else. Helping others gives you a sense of purpose and a dopamine boost. But don’t expect anything in return.

• Try new and varied activities or experiences. Exploring novel things releases dopamine. Shake up your routine.

• Reflect regularly on things you’re grateful for. Appreciating life’s positives gives your dopamine a lift.

The key is making real progress through concrete action, however small. Dreaming and wishing alone won’t sustain motivation and happiness in the long run. Taking steps daily, even minor ones, builds new dopamine pathways to energize you.

  • Take a small part of a dreaded task for 10 minutes daily. Take your time with a solution; just get started. In 45 days, you'll have made progress and built the habit.

  • Adjust the difficulty level of your goals. Lower the bar on impossible goals and raise it on easy ones. A moderate level of challenge triggers dopamine.

  • Laugh every day. Find what makes you laugh and make time for it. Laughter releases endorphins and fear.

  • Cry occasionally. Crying also releases endorphins. Notice the tension you feel when resisting calling and accept it. Crying can relieve old feelings you've been holding in.

  • Vary your exercise routine. Try new exercises to stimulate endorphins. Stretch and do slow exercises like tai chi. Make exercise social or fun.

  • Use "proxies" like animals, crowds, or online friends to build oxytocin and trust. They have less risk of disappointment than direct human contact. Build on this to form closer human bonds.

  • Give compliments and express gratitude. Saying nice things about others releases oxytocin and builds trust and closeness.

  • Touch others in safe, appropriate ways. Even casual touch like a hug or pat on the back releases oxytocin. But get consent and be sensitive to what others are comfortable with.

  • Spend quality time with others. Make time for meaningful interactions and conversations. Put away distractions and be fully present. This builds closeness and oxytocin.

Here are some new serotonin strategies I can try:

Express pride in what I’ve done each day. Say “Look what I did!” to someone, even if I don’t get the expected reaction. Keep doing it for 45 days to build the habit.

Keep working on my goals and projects even if I get little social recognition or applause. Don’t assume successful people always have cheering squads. I can build the skill of taking pride in my accomplishments.

Notice the quiet respect or appreciation I may already be getting each day. Expect and look for it, even if I have to force myself. This allows me to take in what’s already there.

Enjoy the social position I find myself in, whether dominant or subordinate, at each moment. My inner mammal will always find ways I’m undervalued, so I need to relax and appreciate where I am. Equality likely won’t satisfy me, either.

The more I express pride in myself and enjoy my social position, the more I’ll build confidence from within instead of constantly seeking approval from others. But connecting with others in this way also releases serotonin, a habit that boosts mood and resilience.

  • Establishing new habits and neural pathways takes effort and repetition. Moving away from old, familiar patterns and behaviors can be challenging.

  • It will not feel good or rewarding at first to establish a new habit. You have to slog through the initial discomfort for around 45 days before it becomes more accessible and rewarding.

  • Maintaining realistic expectations is essential. Don't expect a new habit to feel as good as an old habit right away. With repetition, the new practice can become rewarding in its way.

  • The "sweet spot" of novelty and familiarity is essential for happiness and reward. Things that are too unfamiliar don't trigger a dopamine response, and things that are too familiar also don't start much dopamine response. Exposing yourself to new things that eventually become familiar through repetition helps keep you in this sweet spot.

  • Music is used as an example. Initially, unfamiliar music won't make you happy, but repetition can become rewarding as your brain learns to predict it. And the music that once made you happy can lose its effect as it becomes too familiar. Exposing yourself to new music helps ensure some music stays in that sweet spot.

  • The main message is that while challenging, establishing new habits and moving away from hyper-familiar old habits is essential for sustainable happiness and reward. New habits and behaviors can become similarly rewarding with realistic expectations and repetition. But constant novelty and newness are also necessary to avoid stagnation.

Measures of happiness are shaped by the neural circuits you have built, often without intention. It's natural to assume your likes and dislikes reflect some objective reality, but they are shaped by experience. You can learn to build circuits that cultivate good feelings.

The first step is being willing to do things that don't feel good initially. This is hard because we trust our reactions, but they are based on limited experience. Avoiding discomfort means missing opportunities for happiness. Commit to one new habit for 45 days.

There are inevitable internal conflicts in pursuing happiness. We weigh short-term and long-term rewards, known and unknown options, individual and group needs, and free will versus dependence. There are always trade-offs, so focus on managing rather than eliminating them.

An action plan considers your timeline for starting a new habit, tools to help you, and ways to overcome obstacles. Choose what new pattern you want to build and your start date. Accept that there are no perfect choices and focus on the benefits of your chosen option. Your ability to navigate trade-offs and uncertainty is a source of pride, not frustration.

In summary, you can build new neural pathways to happiness by committing to habits that don't initially feel good. There are no easy or obvious choices, so make a thoughtful action plan for navigating trade-offs and obstacles. Focus on the benefits of your options rather than what you may need to include. Your ability to choose and commit is a source of power and pride.

There are two common reasons people stick with unhappy habits:

  1. "I can't lower my standards." Some people believe they can only be happy if they achieve lofty ideals or high aspirations. They blame the world for their unhappiness rather than focusing on what they can control - meeting their needs. They may suffer from feeling superior or essential. This is a vicious cycle.

  2. "I shouldn't have to do this." Some believe happiness should come effortlessly or that they deserve it without working for it. They feel wronged by life and blame others for their unhappiness. This, too, is a vicious cycle, as they keep finding more evidence they have been wronged to justify staying in their unhappy state.

In both cases, people are distracted from taking steps that would make them happy, like building habits to meet their needs and focusing on what they can control. Happiness ultimately comes from within, not from what others do or don't do. Comparing yourself to others and feeling you deserve happiness without effort will only lead to more unhappiness.

The solution is to accept that happiness requires work, let go of unrealistic ideals and expectations of others, and build habits and skills that meet your needs. Your happiness is your responsibility. Focus on yourself rather than others. Meet your needs rather than waiting for the world to change.

You may feel your fair share of happiness was wrongly denied to justify seeking rewards (dopamine hits) from feeling deprived or wronged. This habit traps you in a cycle of seeking evidence of mistreatment and temporary satisfaction.

You can build new happy circuits by focusing on your happiness instead of believing others dole it out or are selfish. Your joy can inspire others’ happiness. But it would help if you met your own needs first.

Worrying about potential threats or disasters is natural, but focusing on familiar threats does not make you safer. You can shift your focus to the good in the world, though it may initially feel threatening. Happiness builds resilience.

Fear of failure can prevent you from trying to build new happy circuits. But failure is hard to predict, and avoiding a 45-day effort due to fear of failure traps you in old patterns. With practice, new habits become easier.

The keys are: to Focus on your happiness. Open yourself to new information. Start with small steps. Keep practicing. You have the power to build new habits and see life differently.

• Starting a new habit is challenging because you can’t envision the result. Focus on taking the next small step instead of the big picture. Expect that one step to succeed, even if you’ve failed in the past.

• Expecting success doesn’t mean denying the possibility of failure. It means accepting that success often involves trial and error. Failure is a normal part of facing the unknown and learning.

• Failure triggers negative feelings from past failures, making future attempts much more complicated. But if you persist through those negative feelings, you build positive associations, making success more possible.

• Tell yourself you succeeded, even if it feels fake. This helps build your success circuit and makes success feel as authentic as failure. You have to create new positive experiences to overcome old negative ones actively.

• Blaming societal flaws for your unhappiness is appealing but unproductive. Human frustrations are inevitable and found across cultures. Political systems can’t fix the ups and downs of human neurochemistry. You have to develop the ability to manage your happiness.

• Thinking you’ll be happy once you reach a goal is misleading. Goals stimulate positive and negative feelings, and you can end up in a vicious cycle of chasing the next destination to escape negative emotions from the current one. It would help if you had other tools to regulate your happiness.

• Approaching a goal feels good due to survival instincts, even for unimportant purposes. But reaching the plan may not provide lasting happiness. You have to focus on the process, not the outcome. Have a balanced approach and a variety of self-care tools.

People's sense of happiness or satisfaction only lasts for a short time. Soon enough, your stress hormone cortisol gets triggered in some way. You react the only way you know how: focusing on another goal. People say society forces them to do this, but they choose it themselves without realizing it. The urge to achieve and leave a legacy is natural and older than society. Your brain wants to make its mark before your limited time runs out.

Having only one path to satisfaction creates an unhealthy cycle. Multiple sources of happiness are needed to manage the stress you feel when you ease up on a goal. Following the news and successful people gives a false impression that you'd be happy if you achieved more social status. Accept your urge to reach, but channel your energy in different ways.

To overcome obstacles to happiness, identify thoughts depriving you of joy and work to eliminate them. You choose which thoughts and behaviors benefit you. Redirect your ideas to build new happiness habits. Commit to a new routine for 45 days, repeating it daily and starting over if you miss a day.

Your brain has built-in tools to help build new habits and circuits, including:

Mirroring: Observe and imitate others who have the habits you want. Mirror neurons will activate and help form new circuits. Balance: Provide your brain with all four happy chemicals (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, endorphins). Focus on an area you could improve at.

Grafting: Add new habits onto existing, happy circuits you've already developed. This leverages existing courses to build new ones.

Energy: New habits require more mental energy. Prioritize them, even if relaxing other priorities. Do something fun before/after the new pattern. Watch TV or eat sugar for a quick boost if needed.

Legacy: Connecting a habit to your estate or values helps motivation. What do you want to accomplish or stand for? How does this habit support that?

• Our brains are biased to focus on mistakes and what goes wrong. This can crowd awareness of the good in our lives and the world.

• Animals don’t dwell on their errors or judge themselves harshly for failures. They try again. Lizards have a simple decision model and don’t expect always to succeed.

• Noticing what goes right and going well can balance out a tendency to focus on flaws and errors. Appreciating infrastructure and systems that provide necessities like water, electricity, and transportation can cultivate gratitude.

• Travel to places where necessities are scarce help generate appreciation for what you can access at home. Simple comforts and conveniences often taken for granted at home become more valuable when absent elsewhere.

• Looking for what goes right and expressing gratitude helps create balance and appreciate life's richness. Success and progress, not just setbacks and flaws, deserve attention. Both the good and the wrong shape our experiences.

• Broadening your perspective by considering how most of human history lacked amenities you now enjoy can make present comforts feel fortunate rather than expected. Easy access to necessities is a modern luxury.

• Judging yourself less harshly and avoiding constant self-criticism helps achieve a balanced, appreciative outlook. Like animals, accept that failures and mistakes will happen without harsh self-judgment. Success and progress, not perfection, are realistic aims.

That covers the critical points of balancing awareness of life’s good and evil by noticing what goes right, expressing gratitude, broadening perspectives, and avoiding harsh self-judgment. Letting in the good creates a more balanced view of experience.

The immense network of trust and safety in the modern world is an astounding accomplishment. For most of human history, traveling far from your village was dangerous. Now people interact globally in relative safety. Though problems still occur, the scale of what goes right is enormous.

Our food and healthcare have also improved tremendously. Food is now purified and safe in ways that were unimaginable for most of history. And modern healthcare has enabled many people to live much longer and healthier lives. Though we tend to focus on the flaws and risks, we should appreciate how much better off we are.

However, our expectations and desire for choice can still make us unhappy. Our brains build expectations about what will satisfy us, often based on our adolescent experiences. But reality rarely lives up to these expectations. And while we value choice, making difficult choices and living with their consequences can be frustrating.

The key to happiness is managing your brain and chemicals. You have to choose to focus on the positive and be happy. Your brain will find things to appreciate if you make that choice. You can't control all of your emotions or experiences, but you can choose to be happy and maintain a positive outlook. Your happiness is within your control. Though life will always have ups and downs, you can learn to ride the waves rather than being capsized by them.

  • Humans care deeply about small changes in social status, even though we claim not to care about quality overall. Our mammal brains reward gains in rate with feel-good serotonin and punish losses in rate with anxiety-provoking cortisol.

  • Rhesus macaque monkeys, like humans, are brilliant and adaptable. They are experts at navigating social hierarchies and relationships to survive and thrive. This book explores how macaques pick friends, find mates, raise families, gain and lose status, and more. Understanding our close primate relatives provides insights into the human social mind.

  • Many books tout the benefits of psychiatric drugs. Still, this book challenges the view that the massive rise in mental illness diagnoses is due solely to better diagnosing and reduced stigma. It argues that the drugs may contribute to worsening long-term outcomes and the perception that humans are increasingly mentally ill. The book advocates for non-drug alternatives and treatments.

  • This highly readable book explains how the human mind works based on the latest findings from neuroscience and psychology. It argues that human nature is shaped more by evolution than culture alone. It covers how we perceive, learn, reason, and socialize.

  • This book details years of field research observing wild baboons in Africa. Through simple experiments, the authors gain insights into how baboons think about social relationships, make complex social judgments, and use strategic decision-making to achieve reproductive success. They show how natural selection produces sophisticated social cognition in primates.

  • This book helps readers move beyond a cynical and negative outlook by explaining how it activates feel-good neurotransmitters. It shows how to cultivate a more balanced and optimistic perspective that allows one to see reality. Replacing constant negativity with more constructive and solution-focused thinking leads to greater happiness and well-being.

  • This highly accessible book surveys the latest research from psychology, neuroscience, and related fields on what makes people happy and how to achieve greater happiness. Though wide-ranging, it helps readers understand the underlying mechanisms in the human brain that drive happiness and well-being.

  • This book provides a unique perspective on animal thinking from an author with autism who works with animals. She argues that animals perceive many more details about the world than humans but that humans become focused on abstract patterns. Her insights help us understand the human brain’s reactions beneath our verbal thoughts.

  • This book explores how natural selection has shaped animal territoriality and social dominance behaviors. The patterns of behavior the book reveals, including defending resources and ascending social hierarchies, provide insight into human drives for property, status, and in-group allegiance.

  • This book details the scientist's journey who helped discover opioid receptors in the brain and championed the idea that chemicals are responsible for emotions. It weaves her personal story, the basic science of neurochemistry, and the mind-body connection.

  • This book applies insights about social dominance and hierarchy in dogs to understand the mammalian brain. It shows how dog behavior problems often arise from a need for more clarity about the social order and how calm, submissive behavior can be achieved by establishing leadership. The principles this book teaches extend far beyond dog training.

  • This book surveys how children learn and develop based on the latest research, challenging long-held assumptions. It shows how children pick up on the critical hidden lessons from parents and caregivers, not just the messages they are verbally taught. Praise, sleep, teen rebellion, and more are explored with humorous stories and insights into nurturing children in the real world.

  • This book examines the human preoccupation with social status and its origins. It explores how we can gain awareness of the urge for quality and not let it rule our lives and happiness. The book puts the desire for quality in a historical and philosophical context.

The book has an entertaining style and takes a refreshing stance without bitterness. It provides an engaging history of bohemians, who outwardly rejected bourgeois values but privately pursued money, fame, and status. The author explores why we often blame external factors for feeling like we've fallen short. The book gives many historical examples of behaviors driven by status anxiety, such as dueling over "honor." It shows that status anxiety has always been part of human existence.

The author has written many other books on happiness that are philosophical but exciting. The writing will appeal to readers interested in literature and history rather than science.

Here's a summary of the key points in 5 sentences:

  1. Our brain's neural pathways can be rewired through repetition and experience.

  2. By building new neural pathways, we can learn to boost our happy chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins.

  3. Understanding how our happy chemicals work helps us build habits to activate them.

  4. These habits, performed repeatedly, help retrain our brain to enhance happiness.

  5. Filled with exercises, this book provides tools for living a happier, healthier life by reprogramming our brains.


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