chemistry of love 2

chart showing the body’s chemical and neurological activity when it feels love (as best we know), explained in my earlier posts on the chemistry of love

I am unhappy. I feel somewhat ashamed admitting this. Most of the people in the world would give anything to have what I have — good health, physical and financial comfort and security, love, a beautiful home environment, and a stimulating intellectual life. I have always been incredibly fortunate, the world’s most blessed agnostic.

Yet I am unhappy. The times when I have been happy recently have been times when my profound pessimism about the state of the world, my chronic sense of grief and anger about what humankind has done to this planet and the resultant massive suffering of all Earth’s creatures, are overwhelmed by the chemisty of new emotional and erotic love, the rush of ocytocin and phenylethylamine and dopamine and norepinephrine and testosterone. Once that rush is over, and all that’s left is the quiet comfort of endorphins of enduring love, that apparent happiness subsides, I crave new love, and I once again become unhappy.

Except that now that I am aware of this crazy addiction to the self-produced chemicals of new love, it is losing its hold over me. I want the chemical rush without the addiction, without the madness of pursuing and involving ever-more new people in my emotional life. I want the joy of new love without the loss of self-control, without the complications and the responsibility and the demands on my time and energies that come with the attachments of love.

Yes, I do get some happiness from aesthetic and sensual and intellectual love — when I listen to good music, when I play with animals (or play, in general), when I am exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking, and when something, late at night, usually connected with water, or wind, or light, or the sounds of wild creatures, stirs my heart. But these times are hard to come by, and they are transient. I don’t know what chemical or neurological responses these experiences set off in me that fills me with aesthetic delight, sensual pleasure and intellectual appreciation, but they lack the power of the cocktail of new emotional and erotic love.

I want more fun in my life. And I want my life to be, at last, easy. I have retired from paid work and I don’t want to work hard at anything any more. After 18 months free of wage-slave work, I am still exhausted. I still prefer to do nothing. But when I do nothing I feel empty, disconnected, not alive at all.

And I am quietly consumed with fear — of loss, of extreme discomfort, of getting hurt, of getting trapped, of getting depressed, of hurting people, of letting people down, letting the world down, letting myself down.

I have undertaken and been involved with several projects over the past 18 months, but I don’t feel my involvement has produced anything of real value, and I have largely disengaged from them. I haven’t found any new projects that are sufficiently imperative to me, or sufficiently fun, or sufficiently easy, that I’m motivated to take them up. There are lots of projects that need doing that I think I could contribute to, but I have no passion for them, or else I am afraid — of failure, of arrest, of losing interest in them before I’ve done what needs to be done. And there are many things I think I would be wise to learn, and to practice, in order to be more useful, or more balanced, or more resilient, but I have no patience for studying and practicing them.

I think I know myself well, better than I ever have, yet I feel that there is something wrong and I don’t know what it is. And I don’t know what to do about it. I am such a slow learner, and so self-unaware in the moment.

My sense is that my unhappiness is rooted in the cultural indoctrination that has so profoundly clouded the way I see everything, so wrenched me out of my natural self and into this place inside my head, coloured by everybody-else’s way of thinking, that I can no longer see things as they really are (wondrous, beautiful, spontaneous, connected, ever-present, boundaryless, joyful, abundant, eternal and vibrant) and instead am burdened with perceiving everything the way the disconnected human mind and civilized human culture see things (fearsome, urgent, hostile, full of evil and unfairness and error that must be vigorously and endlessly corrected and self-corrected and improved, controllable with sufficient effort, dangerous, full of struggle and scarcity, endlessly stressful, inherently tragic, and of course anthropocentric).

My instincts tell me that to be truly and sustainably happy I will have to learn to get outside my self-polluted and culturally-polluted head and re-learn to be a natural creature, to be at once nobody-but-myself and a connected part of all-life-on-Earth.

In this, my instincts, which I trust, are at odds with my mind and body, which are tired and unwilling to keep trying to break through this cultural conditioning, to rid myself of the lifetime of gunk that other people and my own contaminated sense-making process have covered me with, the stuff that keeps me everybody-else instead of nobody-but-myself.

But I’m girding myself up to try again, to practice until I learn to slow down and silence the noise in my head and just be, present, self-aware, Earth-aware (drawing on the larger, real context for making sense of life and what happens). More comfortable in wild places. And more play-full (in forms of play that are less earnest and less escapist and less cathartic, and more joyful).

I think this will entail me becoming a bit more self-indulgent, self-centred, less self-sacrificing and less busy, not in the sense of being less generous but rather in the sense of liberating myself from the influences of our terrible culture so that I can connect more with people as they truly are. So instead of getting caught up in their anxieties and cultural indoctrination I will be able to be connect with them as fellow feral creatures, and help them in their liberation instead of with the malaises that have resulted from their captivity.

I am not sure this makes sense, and I am not sure it will make me more sustainably happy. I’m not even sure I’m ready to try it and to persevere. But it seems to offer more promise than an unhappy cycle of love addiction and love-sickness.

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14 Responses to Love-Sick

  1. David says:

    Also described as evolutionary tension!

  2. Lena says:

    Pardon my bluntness. I usually like what you say but this post sounds disconnected and yes, beyond self-indulgent. Perhaps consider adopting an infant — there are millions of abandoned orphans out there — to get you focused on a love greater than yourself, and engaged with what IS, instead of with the noise in your head.

  3. Jim Camasto says:

    Bring on more play! Ideally, something(s) that can physically exhaust you, and continually engage and challenge you for more… Great for getting in the zone of “now” time…

  4. Paul says:

    Although I fantasize about erotic rescue from the ordinary, I don’t actually pursue such adventures, so I don’t think I’m addicted in the same way you claim. But I do feel that I share a pessimism about the state of the world, lack of energy, malaise, disconnection and disengagement. I’m seeing through filters that darken the world, making it difficult to discover the passions that I think must be lying somewhere beneath the skin.

    I do not know, but I suspect that breaking through the cultural conditioning isn’t a matter of great effort, it’s as easy as a change in perspective. Will I discover how to shift to one side? to discard the filters?

    I’m in favor of self-indulgence if it means individuation, discovering the “true self” beyond the personality and our social roles, beyond the demands of our social norms.

  5. Michael says:

    There’s a simple solution to this predicament……Golf!

  6. UnifiedTao says:

    If you search for happiness
    pursuit unhappiness
    go deeply into it
    remain on it
    and happiness will flower.

    Happiness cannot be sought, you cannot seek it. It is a by-product, it is a natural consequence. If you make a goal out of happiness you will never find it, you will always miss it. It comes very silently, it comes like a whisper, it comes like your shadow. When you are totally absorbed into something and not thinking about happiness at all, it is there. Whenever you are thinking about it, it is not there, it is very shy. Whenever you look around, it disappears; whenever you start thinking ‘Am I happy or not?’ you are not. A happy man never thinks about happiness — he is so happy, how can he think about happiness? Only an unhappy man thinks about happiness, and by thinking, he becomes more unhappy.

    I have heard…. A big dog saw a little dog chasing its tail, and asked ‘Why are you chasing your tail so?’
    Said the puppy ‘I have mastered philosophy, I have solved the problems of the universe which no dog before me has rightly solved: I have learned that the best thing for a dog is happiness, and that happiness is in my tail. Therefore I am chasing it, and when I catch it I shall have it.’

    Said the old dog ‘My son, I too have paid attention to the problems of the universe in my weak way, and have formed some opinions. I too have judged that happiness is a fine thing for a dog, and that happiness is in my tail. But I have noticed that when I go about my business, it comes after me. I need not chase it.’

    Listen to this old dog’s idea. You must have seen that whenever a dog is happy, he waves his tail, so naturally dogs think that happiness must be in the tail. Then they start chasing, but you cannot chase your own tail. You jump, the tail jumps; you jump more, the tail jumps more — you will get crazy. That’s what is happening.

  7. Michael says:

    Like I said. A good solution is Golf.

    It has no practical purpose yet it humbles every player and you will rarely find an arrogant golfer. It teaches equanimity in the face of absurd difficulties and occasional triumphs. A great activity on so many many levels. Get out of your head and give it a go. If you persist, Joy will creep up on you.

  8. Mata Hari says:

    You are nothing – completely inconsequential to anything or anyone else. Humility and gratitude is what you need – for all the things/people that have any meaning to you because you know you are just very very lucky to even have those things/people – not earned and not deserved. How much is enough? Your greed is endless, you have lived everything and much much more than most people ever do. Life expectancy is 50 in some places. You would have been dead and out of your misery if you had only been born in one of those places. A white man in the western world ensconced in the materialistic and narcissistic privilege of the accident of your birth – get down on your knees and beg forgiveness to the earth/world for you and your kind.

  9. Martin says:


    Grow up out of your post-adolescent malaise, realize that ‘happy’ is a plus and be content.


  10. rb says:

    You can do many things.

    1. Adopt a child.
    2. Watch the program called, history of the world in two hours. It just explains the enormity of what has possibly happened over the last billion years in order for you, and me to have accidentally evolved, and been placed here at this time. Pure chance.
    3. Visit a different part of the world, preferably a place that values your knowledge, and skills. Be among people. Contribute in a school. Accept hospitality from strangers. Be hospitable to strangers.
    4. Find a community garden. Volunteer, and work to earn your food. You may a lot of money in the bank.
    5. Donate all your money.
    6. Got to step 3. Work again for a basic living.
    7. Loneliness is not healthy.
    8. Line from book from Tim Ferriss. Continuous learning combined with service (nature, family, weak, world) will keep you in good health, and keep you connected.
    9. I now start to think that the earth does not need to be saved. Every life form has conciousness. Let the human mind not be burden. Appreciate the most basic things in life.

    Have fun.

  11. Steve says:


    Well mate I have never met you irl but I feel like you are a freind and I must say I am sad to hear that you are not happy. And I am not going to offer and solution.

    What I might say to you, myself, and all others who feel the lack of happiness in their lives, is that inside that feeling, deep inside is the longing. And that longing is true and it is sweet and it is on the verge of being divine. Love and respect and nuture that longing because that will guide you.
    And yes, we have in us so much cultural conditioning and voices in our heads that tell us the way to go. Not the longing. It can’t talk in English it has another language.

    Really Dave I admire you for sharing what is in your heart in this and other posts, and thank you so much. I really hope you find what you are looking for. If it is true happiness you want I am sure you will get it.

  12. Rick Bateman says:

    Hi Dave. I made the connection with your site through the Transition Town movement earlier this year and have been following it since.

    There is no reason to feel ashamed for being human. You are not the only person who feels as you do and there is nothing “wrong” about it, it’s just that there is a social taboo against admitting it. For example, as they struggle along, many people think about suicide as they consider their options – but try discussing the subject with anyone! It is normal but it is also taboo, just as is admitting that you are unhappy.

    I agree that what you feel is unpleasant and I understand that you would like it to go away. I should know, I have felt the same way for most of my life.

    Based on your writings, which indicate a systems thinking approach, I assume that in Myers-Briggs personality type terms you are an INTJ and in Neuro-Linguistic Programming terms your learning style would be digital-audio (meaning you seek to understand things by forming diagrams in your mind). I do appreciate that both of these are pseudo-sciences but I have found them useful by way of being generally accurate. I realize astrologers will make the same claim.

    Like you, I am systems thinker, thus the interest in Myers-Briggs and NLP. Seeking to find the philosophers stone of happiness I have explored many systems of thought and thus, again like you, I am familiar with a wide range of arts and sciences. Holding the most promise, those I have pursued most deeply have been Buddhism and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. In some senses these thought systems are similar and in others diametrically opposed. After ten years with each, I have come to the conclusion that they both have their pros and cons and much of useful value. By value I mean that systems thinkers seek tools and both these systems offer many tools. However neither system is a cure-all and both contain elements I strongly disagree with.

    Buddhism argues that no thing we get, or get free of, will bring us lasting happiness but that only the acceptance of “what is” will free us from our suffering. It argues that it is thinking things should be different than they are which causes our unhappiness, that it is ironically the very act of seeking the secret to making things different that is the source of our suffering. While this may be true, after ten years of practicing Buddhism I have given up on it because ultimately it never made any difference to my experience of life.

    Ayn Rand’s Objectivism takes a diametrically opposed approach and argues that only the manifestation of our individual values in this world will make us happy; only the fullest and truest expression of our self (Buddhism argues that our sense of self is only a kind of “optical illusion”). While Ms. Rand is a HIGHLY controversial figure, I have come to believe that her philosophy of Objectivism suits me best because it is based on objective reality from the point of view of the human experience. Both Buddhism and Objectivism require one to answer the question, “Who are you?”, but they expect very different answers. The Objectivist’s answer comes from a behavioral view – from a biographical perspective, when have you felt the greatest sense of integrity between who you are and what you are doing?

    INTJs are by nature seekers and thus will never find lasting happiness because after we find something that makes us happy it’s appeal wears off once we UNDERSTAND it and INTEGRATE it. Then we seek a new romance, a new trail to hike, a new game to play, a new book to read, a new idea to explore. We cannot cease from seeking for that is our nature and it is the cause of both our happiness AND our unhappiness.

    As you have detailed in your post, there are times when we wish we could find lasting happiness. It is understandable that there are times when we may wish we were other than we are. Can a leopard change its spots? No my friend. We are what we are – one type of human among many types. Others who are not as we are will certainly misunderstand us, even as we are confounded in our attempts to understand them, much as we wish to as we seek the source of their happiness. Many of those others will condemn us, as I note many have condemned you here in these comments. They are like Labrador Retrievers, self righteously condemning another of their species for being a Border Collie. Forgive them, for they know not what they do. Meanwhile we can only be what we are. There is no escape. This is it.

    Yet there are ways to make being what we are easier. Knowing you are not alone grants some relief. If you have not already done so you may find some value in exploring some of the things I have mentioned above.

    Keirsey’s study of temperaments based on the Myers-Briggs work (which is based on Carl Jung’s archetypes) (watch the video!)

    With regard to Objectivism I would suggest

    Kind regards,


  13. Piyush says:

    These feelings are not uncommon among many of us who are seeing the state of the world — project civilization seems to be reaching the end of its life cycle — and we are uncomfortable about it and find it an overwhelming “problem” to “solve”.

    We find ourselves in a state where we think we can take some actions but have doubts that they are not going to “solve” anything or may even create more problems [Eric Severaid’s law: The chief source of problems is solutions]. And on the other hand, not taking actions makes us uncomfortable becase of the physical and mental suffering we already see ahead with almost no doubt. Where is happiness in this? Happiness is not in the physical and mental domains, it is in the spiritual domain which has nothing to do with the state of the world. Happiness has always been there no matter the state of the world, happiness is inside of sentient/living beings in infinite amounts, it is just masked by our ego and attachments to our mind, body and the outer world of objects. These attachments keep us from experiencing it, no matter the state of the world. The current state of world is an opportunity to experience happiness because it is exposing the falseness of our ego driven actions and the outer world, and compelling us to peek into the inner world even as we play into the unfolding reality in the mental and physical domains. Because happiness is infinite, the question of sustainable happiness is silly per se, the question is only about the sustained unmasking of the happiness. That requires melting of ego and external attachments. Mankind’s struggle for doing this is eternal.

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