Emotions The chemistry of pleasure guides us

The chemistry of pleasure guides us


How does the brain make us perceive and enjoy the pleasantness of life? And that we feel good simply anticipating good things in the future?

Pleasure is a pleasant and desirable awareness. And where does all that pleasure come from?

The pleasures we feel are neither in the stomach, nor in the mouth, nor on the skin, nor on the genitals. It is true that we feel them as if they are located in those parts of the body, but by themselves they are not capable of feeling pleasure.

The truth is that it is the brain, with its activity, that generates pleasure and makes possible all that we can perceive although we do not know how he manages to make us feel pleasure outside of him (for example, on the back when they caress us).


Various parts of the brain are involved in the sensation of pleasure we experience. Among the most related to pleasure, we can mention the prefrontal, orbitofrontal, insular and cinglada cortex, and as subcortical regions, among others, the nucleus accumbens, the central pale nucleus and the amygdala.

We have long known that in any circumstance that involves pleasure (be it natural, such as eating an appetizing meal, or artificially, such as when the brain is electrically stimulated or an addictive drug is consumed) the neurotransmitter dopamine is released. For this reason, for some time, it was considered the neurotransmitter or chemical substance of reward and pleasure in the brain.

However, new studies have taught us that this is not true. What we now believe is that the dopamine released in the mesolimbic dopaminergic system increases the motivational components of reinforcement, its incentive value, and produces desire without causing taste or having a true hedonic impact. That is to say: dopamine, rather than directly causing pleasure, what it does is increase our desire to feel it.

All suspicions fall on enkephalins and endorphins, also called endogenous opiates, since they are substances produced and ubiquitous in much of the brain. Its natural function is to generate pleasure, in the same way that morphine and other substances derived from opium do when they are consumed. That is, enkephalins and endorphins facilitate the activation of brain structures that generate pleasurable perceptions.

Its artificial stimulation by injecting substances that reproduce its effects, the so-called opiate agonists, in specific brain regions, such as the nucleus accumbens, has been shown to increase, and even double, the hedonic impact we feel when consuming the sweet of sucrose, measured by reactions to its consumption. Let’s think that pleasure is assimilated to hedonism, the Greek word for pleasure which, in turn, derives from that used for sweet.


Humans are permanent seekers of pleasure. Like other animal species, we can achieve this in many ways: drinking, eating, resting, warming or cooling our body, with massages and caresses, alleviating any pain or somatic discomfort and satisfying sexual motivations.

But, unlike other species, we can also obtain it cognitively, that is, mentally and intellectually. The development of the human cerebral cortex allows us to enjoy the love and company of our family and friends; of artistic, literary or scientific creations and discoveries; of success in our social relationships; of achievements in work or the economy; sports competitions, fun activities and games in general.

All this can also produce a lot of pleasure. But that’s not all. Humans can enjoy in the present even imagining the good that can happen in the future.


The ability of the human brain and mind to imagine the positive consequences of our behavior also allows us to eagerly enjoy the now and for that reason we can also enjoy in advance in the present the good that can happen in the future.

That is what makes it possible for us to also feel pleasure imagining how good we will feel when we are on vacation on a beach, when we have obtained the job, we aspire to, if we were to win a big prize with the lottery or imagining a water source fresh when we are thirsty.

The natural activation of the brain’s motivation and pleasure systems is part of the homeostatic regulation of the body. Enjoying and feeling the pleasure of eating when the energy demands of the body require it is something necessary and biologically established.

Many incentive pleasures, such as those of an intellectual nature, can also have a beneficial role for the somatic and mental well-being of people, since they reduce stress and are at the origin of the motivations that drive us to behave in a convenient way so as not to harm Our organism.

And that is a problem for those who, due to heredity, illness or aging, have less capacity to feel pleasure. We need to feel pleasure to feel well and achieve well-being. Its influence is also very important for the body to adapt to the environment in the control of motivated behavior, decision-making, learning and memory.

What happens is that the decisions that we frequently make on a daily basis are not always, although it may seem like it, an exercise in pure rationality. In most of them, without our barely noticing it, there is an important emotional influence not without pleasant sensations.


Consider, for example, the mental anticipation of the excitement and pleasure of becoming slimmer or looking and fitter. This anticipation of pleasure can influence the decision to restrict calorie intake. No less certain is the influence that can have on the decision to save the anticipated feeling of pleasure that comes from enjoying a new car or a vacation in a dream place.

As we see with these examples and in other possible ones, pleasure guides our daily decisions. And it does so much more than we think.

Common experience tells us that we tend to repeat those behaviors that have positive consequences. If we liked a certain dish in a restaurant, we will ask for it again on new occasions.

The administration of pleasant stimuli after those behaviors that we want to promote is a powerful means of modulating or changing people’s behavior. This is what a parent does when they give a ball or a computer to their child after getting a good grade on an exam.

MindFixes Staffhttp://mindfixes.com
MindFixes is dedicated to promoting mental health, preventing mental disorders and advocating, educating, and serving all people with mental and substance use conditions. MindFixes is determined to persevere, learn, grow, love and laugh through our wellness journey and we invite all to join.


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