The Pleasure Trap by Douglas J Lisle
My rating: 8/10
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We're not evolutionary designed to experience the huge amount of pleasure the modern world offers. Excesses make us unhappy and unhealthy.
Troubled relationship with food isn’t a “simple habit” but a “life-destroying addiction”.
Bad feelings are unpleasant but valuable signals that important life goals have been threatened, and they encourage us to do something about it.
In human and animal life the primary goals are the pursuit of pleasure, the avoidance of pain, and the conservation of energy.
Moods of happiness and unhappiness are signals that let us know whether we are on the right path, the path of survival and reproduction.
Certain things cause the releases of pleasure chemistry — most notably food consumption and sexual activity (because they are necessary for survival and reproduction). But we are not designed to eat and have sex all day. Pleasure, at best, is an intense event designed to last for a few precious moments each day.
Happiness is not a final destination. Not a place you can find and stay forever. It is the temporary and repeatable consequence of a process, and comprises a diverse set of mood states that signal that we are on the right track (experiences like productive satisfaction, pride, romantic moods, the enjoyment of friendship, feelings of security and relief).
The moods of happiness, together with moments of pleasure, make up the best that life has to offer.
Happiness is the result of making progress and of goal-attainment at any of the diverse aspects of life that are inherently important: romance, friendships, health, material comfort, security, family, and social regard.
The pleasure trap is the root of the vast majority of disease, disability, and unhappiness in western civilisation.
Recreational drugs, fast foods, television, modern medicine, the electric light bulb, and the glorification of casual sex and gambling are powerful features of our societal landscape that can be deceptively dangerous. They are like magic buttons that can short-circuit the natural connection between happiness and pleasure-seeking behaviour (and rob their victims health and happiness).
Pain is the nervous system’s way of telling us that something is wrong with our body. It is a warning device. It can guide corrective behaviours.
A key component of the hunger drive is a tendency to prefer the most calorically dense foods available. They tend to be more pleasurable. Most people find that meat, at about 1,200 calories per pound, is more pleasurable than raw salad vegetables about 100 calories per pound.
Diseases of Kings: heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cancer… (the elite classes suffered them, they had access to big quantities food and feasts)
Today they are the leading causes of death and disability in the industrialised world.
John McDougall: People love to hear good news about their bad habits.
The real culprits in most modern-day health problems are excesses, not deficiencies. It is the subtraction of these excesses that will solve most of the problems, not the addition of medications or supplements.
Law of Satiation: In a natural setting of caloric abundance, an animal will consume the correct amount of food needed for optimal function. Animals simply eat until they are satisfied. Even “fat” animals are in reality fit: the blue whale maintains a body fat of 12 percent, about the same as a fit male human.
The secret lies in what we eat, not in how much.
Our modern diet is artificially concentrated, and this artificial concentration causes our calorie-counting machinery to make errors. It’s fooled in 2 ways: through excessive fat intake, and through the consumption of refined carbohydrates (fiber-deficient products like white bread, pasta, white rice).
Exercise is not the key to weight management. Exercise deficiency is a comparatively minor contributing cause of excess fat.
The solution is not to eat less than desired, but rather to eat in a way that is appropriate for our species: fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.
Our sense of taste is subject to neuroadaptation. The vast majority of people in industrialised societies are neuroadapted to a high-fat, high-sugar, and high-salt diet. But like smokers oblivious to their odors, most people have little or no awareness as to how extraordinary (bad) their dietary choices really are.
Most people think they wouldn’t enjoy a diet of whole natural foods, or that they’d suffer eating a health-promoting diet. Like those addicted to drugs, they cannot imagine a better life, free from the drug-like effects of magic food.
The process of becoming desensitised to natural foods usually needs 30 to 90 days of magic-food abstention (taste buds re-adapt).
A short-term mono-diet of a favourite whole natural food -such as a watermelon- or a juice diet can remove virtually all salt and fat from the diet for two or three days, and help to restore sensitivity to taste nerves. This can make for a much easier transition to a diet of whole, natural foods.
Albert Schweitzer: Example is not the main thing influencing others; it’s the only thing.
We must think for ourselves, as it is we who must live with the consequences of our choices.
Electric light needs to be viewed as a mixed blessing. Though useful, we should still strive to sleep to satiety and wake up on most days spontaneously, feeling fully refreshed.
Effective behaviors, like making progress at a worthwhile task, enjoying time with friends, or doing well at an interesting game, cause serotonin levels to increase. So does a health-promoting diet and sleeping to satiety, and regular exercise.
We compromise our health and happiness by inducing dopamine for brief moments of pleasure with shortcuts as alcohol, tobacco, coffee, cola, drugs, chocolate and other rich foods.
Exercise dissipates the impact of stress hormones, helping us to feel better and improving the quality of our sleep.
Not feeling good is connected to lack of sleep, exercise, and good dietary choices. We are unlikely to identify coffee, chocolate, high-fat foods, late-night TV, and a lack of exercise as factors. Quite the contrary, we are likely to suspect that a pleasure deficiency is the cause.
The change of even a single factor, such as removing morning caffeine, will often result in a person temporarily feeling worse, as they experience unwelcome fatigue as well as the headaches, nausea, and anxiety characteristic of drug withdrawal.
In a world with pleasure traps, we need to understand that in making better choices, we may face discomfort while in transition. And rather than merely attempting to do a little at a time, sometimes the best strategy is to make multiple positive changes at the same time so that the large benefits can become apparent.
Optimal results are not achievable without optimal behavior.
- Have no junk food or recreational drug in the house.
- Engage in a regular exercise program. Preferably every day. You were not designed by nature to exercise two or three days per week. Make it as much fun as possible.
- Regular bedtime hour.
- Weekly menu plan.