THE CHEMICAL THING

March 14, 2016

Taylor Carre-Riddell

Cute little Pug puppy with sign "I Love You" isolated on white .

As I begin writing this, it is Valentine’s Day. My immediate surroundings on every social media platform are saturated with puppies cuddling or kanoodling (yep, according to good ol’ urbandictionary.com, that’s an actual word that has wormed its way into pop culture) as well as Chocolates and Roses 101. I like chocolate. I like puppies. I guess kanoodling sounds cool. Do these things make me happy? Sure they do. I’ve been socially conditioned to associate these things with happiness. But I’ll ask myself again. Do these thing really make me happy?

The answer is no.

Well at least, not in the sense that sustains me through the turmoil of teenage life. It’s taken me a long time to realise that it’s okay to be driven and enthralled by ambitious things such as solitary overseas travel and master’s degrees and musical theatre expeditions. To not apologise for using these passions and ambitions to catapult (or admittedly, sometimes drag me) through life’s buffet of challenges. More importantly, I’m learning as a female teenager what it actually means to not second guess my right to take up space, ask for and even give help and support, without adding a disclaimer or some other subtle indicator that I’m “sorry to bother you with my input or personal troubles”. But that is another coveted chapter.

At the same time, I’ve learnt to fully embrace that I am equally amused by those cuddly cat and playful puppy videos, Valentine’s Day themed or otherwise. I love the six second escapism a Vine can give me, or the tongue-in-cheek jokes an infamous meme can conjure within my social group. It’s like a spreading of sugary, superficial icing, the short term happiness on the denser, substantial sponge cake called long term happiness. Combine these two types of happiness together, and you get food for the soul.

So, even when faced with a day like an hyper-modernised Valentines Day, which focuses so infamously on the sickly sweet “commercial” kind of happiness, how did I come to define these two types of happiness and simultaneously capitalize on the benefits they both can offer in my life? Easy. Science.

Think of the biological side of your mental health like a musical, with an ensemble of hormone glands. It’s the pituitary gland (in your brain) that does the singing or “releasing” of oxytocin, a complex hormone responsible for the rush of elation, warm feelings you get when perceiving certain stimuli. The hundreds of audience members in the theatre represent the millions and millions of specialised hormone receptors that “listen to” and respond to that specific song, and act accordingly. When the oxytocin “song” is sung, the certain audience members will cry in joy and delight. Other receptors, who aren’t designed to “listen” to that song, remain indifferent. Oxytocin is known as the life hormone because many audience members “respond to it” at critical moments in our lives.

Selfie adolescenti si scattano foto in citt

Just like singing, you must work hard to achieve true happiness and sing with pure intent. It doesn’t matter whether graduating high school or finding out that McDonalds does All-Day Breakfast- as long as the stimulus is genuine, your pituarity gland will unleash an oxytocin-filled ballad. You can’t activate or “falsely stimulate” the release of oxytocin; your body knows if you are not happy.

So, in other words, if you tell this relative or that friend (or frenemy, to keep up with pop culture) that you are overjoyed by the prospect of studying this subject at school, or dumping that guy, but internally you realize that you’d rather rub your forehead against a cheese grater then actually do those things, then congratulations!

Yes, do indeed congratulate yourself for recognising and acknowledging this feeling. It means you’ll realise that you can’t be truly happy yourself by pleasing others by pretending to be happy. It’s a hearty cycle to say the least.

What u need to do as the badass sophisticated homo-sapien you are is work out what kind of happiness sustains you in the long run; seek out and relish in whatever stimulates you to face the daily grind of life again and again. Then, with just as much vigour and intent, save some more cat video blogs into your browser for when you need a dopamine pick me up (another fabulous little hormone that likes to chill with oxytocin.) Use those both these things to make your pituitary gland sing with glorious, complex notes of oxytocin. As for me… if that does involve my deeply spiritual connection to Netflix and salted caramel chocolate as well as studying biology and writing random stuff, then so be it. Valentine’s Day can remind us that there’s no point in knowing what these hormones are and how they work unless you know their purpose.

Oxytocin’s actual evolutionary purpose and how it exactly helps to distinguish us as complex, conscience beings is very scientifically debatable. Even though this may be reality for a while to come, I think a nice purpose we could possibly give it in our day to day lives would be to help us fall in love with ourselves. Our world could definitely benefit from learning and relearning the basics of self-compassion, seduction, adoration. February 14th is a good place as any to recognise the supreme importance of self-love and start such a journey.

– Taylor Carre-Riddell

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