30 seconds to happiness

My brain puts the dope in dopamine.

Dopamine is the chemical that hooks us on certain behavior in hopes that a reward will come. Marketers are keenly aware that social media can cause a dopamine high. Notifications are enticing, filling you with the hope of a reward. You become more likely to press “log-in” or visit the site or click the application icon. 

Studies show drugs boost the body’s dopamine levels, leaving the body ill-equipped to match those high levels when not using the drug. Addiction sets in.  

A McGill University study also shows that a hyperactive dopamine response to alcohol is linked to alcoholism. Alcoholics have a higher rate of dopamine response when they drink than non-alcoholics. This doesn’t surprise me. I recall the rush I’d feel in just knowing a drink or drug was coming my way.

Chemicals are chemicals. I’m hooked on dopamine release in any way shape or form.

It’s the rush that you feel on that initial roller coaster climb. Who cares that you’ve been standing in the hot sun for almost an hour and are now strapped uncomfortably to a seat that is inching forward. Your brain is a frenzy of chemical movement in the expectation of the rush.

We are hooked on the hook, not the bait.” (see the poem “Feeling Twittery”)

Huffington Post associated Dopamine with three other chemicals that produce happiness. In my amateur opinion from the little I’ve read, dopamine produces more expectation in me than happiness. As an addict, I’ve learned that happiness is inversely proportioned to expectation. Meaning as my expectations rise, my real happiness falls.

Because rewards come so easily on social media, my brain becomes hooked on the expectation of more. I’ve learned many difficult lessons in life, and one of the biggest is that what comes easy does not make me content.

I need to place dopamine in a category apart from happiness.


Oxytocin is different. It is a neurotransmitting chemical more associated with physical touch and endearing memories and relationships. While dopamine releases when you see loved ones open their arms, it takes 30 seconds of hugging for Oxytocin to release. Here is Dr. Paul Zak’s Ted Talk on Oxytocin.

Modern technology has made 30 seconds feel like a lifetime. We used to send thoughts out in the world with written letters and have to wait weeks to see someone’s reply, and I doubt that someone ever replied to a letter with this:

Modern Letters

Replies were more emotionally in-depth, more likely to trigger the release of oxytocin.

But in today’s world, fibre optics send information at the speed of light to every continent. This means in theory that you can post something on social media and then see someone like it from a world over in under a second.

Our expectations for that reward become instantaneous—and overwhelming.


The chemical associated with a release from pain is endorphins. These are chemicals of a “runner’s high” or deep laughter, both of which are harder to come by then the actions that release dopamine. It’s like the difference between selecting the “laugh til your crying emoji” and actually laughing so hard with a friend that your tear ducts activate.


the dopamine rush


the release of endorphins






No matter how many times I write that I’m laughing out loud, unless I’m truly laughing, I am chasing dopamine, not endorphins.


Serotonin is the 4th chemical typically associated with producing happiness. UV rays release Vitamin D and serotonin. A simple walk outside feels good. Writer Sean Paul Mahoney wrote about the joy that a simple walk can bring. He got me thinking.

Basking in the light of a computer screen won’t release serotonin the way a walk on a sunny day will. Although what an invention that would be.

Computer sit

computer light







In fact, too much exposure to computer screens at night delay the release of melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep.

I write all this because I’ve been unhappy lately. I’ve been spending too much time on devices, and not enough time in the presence of my family. I’m learning how to pursue happiness in my life. Taking 30 seconds to hug a loved one, laughing hard in the presence of a friend, or taking a walk in the sunlight do that. Checking for social media updates, emails, and text messages do not.

And I pray for the wisdom to follow my own advice, to take my own prescription for happiness.

Moving at the speed of light, internet data can wrap the earth 7.5 times in one second.

If it’s 30 seconds to happiness, isn’t the tradeoff worth it?

16 Responses to “30 seconds to happiness

  • “I recall the rush I’d feel in just knowing a drink or drug was coming my way”. I can absolutely relate. Thanks for this break down of explanations! Great post.

  • I love your writing. This is a great reminder, to take a step back and truly connect with people/life. Hard for those that are socially awkward at times….Lol.
    They even have online meetings…?
    Which would if been safe for me. But I pushed my introverted self and walked into a real meeting. Success!
    Thanks for your words Mark.
    Your blog is amazing! How’s that for a rush!?!

    • Rush received. I’m glad you found your way into a ‘real meeting’.

      I’ve found great comfort and relief from the online community. But for me, there is nothing like shaking someone’s hand, or giving someone a hug, or looking someone in the eye and seeing if they need help.

      Thank you for your support!

  • Another good one, Mark. I relate, as usual, to all of it. Regarding the devices: I had a 6 hour weather delay while traveling Monday night. Have not been in Twitter or FB since then. Granted, it’s only 2.5 days, but am noticing a very pleasant LACK of that itch and “need” to check in. I’m not sure where this is going, and I’m not making any bold pronouncements (this time, LOL)…but I do feel some serenity creeping in. Take care

    • I’ve been in the same mode HD! I’ve been purposely trying to lay-off those things And the result has been great.

  • Love it and I totally agree. Moving past this summer malaise has been a bitch. So much darkness at one time is starting to bum me the fuck out. But I’m finding, like you, that feeling real life and experiencing all of it, makes it more bearable. Walks, art, music, eating outside, drinking lemonade– whatever. No matter how small the joy, I’m savoring it right now and appreciating it.
    Great post and thanks for the shout-out too!

  • Mark, I found this article to be my morning treasure hunt, with lots of interesting links to read and information to ponder. Thank you for the pleasant adventure!

    • Thanks for that Penny. I’m glad it sort of got ‘mapped out’ that way. I spent most of the time jamming unlike puzzle pieces together until Dan Maurer got me a great link and set everything rolling.

  • Brilliant post! (As usual). I’m a bit of an armchair neuroscientist, and I dig this sort of shit. I think my interest began when I was searching online other ways I could (legally) get high. Now, of course, I don’t go that route, but I’m still interesting in how all those brain chemicals mix-n-match up there.

    Glad you’re noticing how the online life is affecting real relationships. It’s continually a challenge for me to turn off my computer. I think it’s especially so, since I freelance write and manage three web pages for a living. Facebook and Twitter (and email) are all on simultaneously in the background. Thing is, they can be spiritually crushing. I think like any tool, the middle road is key.

    But, like you, I’m not a middle-of-the-road kind of guy!! I like hit life full throttle!

    Keep writing, buddy. And keep to the relationships that really matter too with the people who love you.

    Your friend, always . . . Danno

  • Christine McLaughlin
    2 years ago

    Love this! Your writing hits home. Maybe because I’m an addict, too, and I find myself nodding my head in agreement to what you say. I’m so much an addict (in recovery from the booze though) that I take a melatonin supplement at night to balance my depletion of it while I continue checking FB and reading news into the wee hours!! My entire family are news junkies and the news rarely makes me happy. Thanks for the reminder to step away to allow the real high of genuine happiness make an appearance.

    • Even when you recognize it doesn’t make it any easier to change. Although I’m working on it. Thanks for reading!

  • I keep coming to read this post and every time I get pulled away or distracted! meh

    I believe so much in the power of touch. It is one of the reasons I love my job. I get to touch people that don’t get touched at all most days, It is such an intense form of communication.

    • What do you do Birdie?

      • I am a community health worker. I help people stay in their own home who would otherwise end up in a nursing home or the hospital.

        • Cool! Sounds very similar to what my wife does as an occupational therapist.

          • Oh, no. OT’s are highly qualified and educated. CHW’s are kind of bottom rung in health care. Important, but not anywhere the level of an OT.

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