Spring bursts forth with vibrant color, intoxicatingly sweet floral scents and sex. That’s right, relations. While monogamy in the rest of the animal kingdom is more of a myth, human pair-bonding gives the reward system a long-term buzz of activity and contributes to both physical and mental health. Oxytocin, the hormone produced when engaging in hugging, kissing and intercourse reduces jealousy and increases partner attractiveness. How unfortunate would it be if a product existed that could disturb this natural rhythm: altering the level of attraction and diminishing sexual functioning. There is - and almost 10 million women in the US are using it: hormonal contraception.
Crisp November gently beckons fire-side chats, warm knitted scarfs and fragrant kitchens redolent of home scents. This month, a thankful attitude lifts spirits and encourages kind actions. Despite its psychological benefit, gratitude is elusive, not inherent and difficult to define. Some psychologists contend that gratitude is the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself. What defines meaning in our brain and how does gratitude carve out its neural pathways?
At first blush, layers of a personality peel back slowly. Upon meeting someone new, a rudimentary judgment blooms based on apparent age, posture, gender, style of dress and even language spoken: Liberal. Likely shops at Whole Foods. Listens to NPR. Intelligent and neat. Clearly owns a cat. Maybe two. Is that a sperm whale tattoo? We are definitely going to be friends. While our brain is adapted to make snappy assumptions, research points to a much faster (and more accurate) way of unlocking key personality elements: listening to their playlist.
Press play on your earliest happy memory. Your presence is transported to the past, where you feel temperature change, see younger versions of family members interact and even smell the succulent aromas around you. A vivid experience drenches the senses and embosses an indelible memory on the brain's surface. Why do some remember (and even dream) in exquisite sensory detail, while others watch only monochromatic versions of their past? The answer lies in their genes.
First hit. Body tingles, soul shivers. Colors bleed vibrant. Time stands still. Everything suggests divine presence. Second hit. Worries fade away, replaced by euphoria. Obsession begins, craving more. Third hit. Calm, happiness, contentment. Need a bigger dose to feel. Need a bigger dose to think. Need a bigger dose to function. Fourth hit. Can’t live without it. Too much time between hits. Getting fidgety. Moral compass points only to the next hit. Insanity lingers. Fifth hit. Fatal.
Is this the cycle of a drug addict? Or a human falling in love? Turns out, it doesn’t matter. The brain can’t distinguish the difference.