4. Serotonin and the individual
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Living as Jesus taught actually changes your physical body, in desirable ways.
I will focus just now on body chemistry, and specifically one chemical, serotonin. Dozens of chemicals are probably involved, and I don’t mean to exaggerate the importance of just one. However, it happens that, on the one hand, serotonin plays a major role in the challenges I have personally faced in my life; and on the other hand, it has profound ramifications for how well anyone does in life.
Serotonin is a “neurotransmitter,” a chemical that carries information of certain kinds back and forth among nerve cells in your body. There are several dozen of these neurotransmitters, each with its own functions. Serotonin’s functions pertain to happiness — The higher one’s “serum serotonin,” the amount of it in one’s blood, the happier one will be. — and to the ability to concentrate. But overall, it seems to pertain mainly to how well one does in life.
The skin of each cell in one’s body, called the “cell membrane” is covered with millions — each cell is covered with millions — of “receptors,” as it were, tiny keyholes. The molecule of a neurotransmitter fits into a receptor like a key in a keyhole, and turns to turn the cell “on” or “off” a certain way.
There are five different kinds of receptors for serotonin alone.
Certain physical diseases — depression as a physical disease, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS), among others — occur when a person has too many serotonin receptors throughout her or his body. So much serotonin gets sucked up into the extra receptors, that too little is left in the blood (serum) to do its job. The most effective drugs against these diseases are known as SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors). Molecules of these drugs plug up the extra receptors so that serotonin can’t go in, leaving enough serotonin in the blood to do what it’s supposed to do.
I suffered greatly with OCD and DSPS for decades. There’s a lot to them. Maybe I can tell those stories elsewhere.
One’s serum serotonin level profoundly affects how one thinks, acts and feels. Here are some of the differences:
|Indicators of low serotonin:||Indicators of higher serotonin:|
|– unhappiness||– happiness|
|– low self-esteem||– high self-esteem|
|– easily distracted; scatterbrained||– able to focus intently|
|– irritable; easily angered||– slow to anger|
|– easily upset||– hard to upset|
|– short-tempered||– patient|
|– pessimistic||– optimistic|
|– defiant||– cooperative|
|– careless sex||– caring love|
On the one hand, these correspond well to the distinctions Paul made between “the works of the flesh” and “the fruits of the spirit.” Galatians 5:19-23:
One set of traits is also more consistent than the other with what Jesus taught.
On the other hand, it should be evident that a person with lower serotonin will have a harder time dealing with life than one whose serotonin is higher.
Living as Jesus taught boosts one’s serum serotonin; and there is a feedback or snowball effect.
Meditation — focusing intently — boosts one’s serotonin, and makes it easier to focus intently.
Presence — focusing on here-and-now, rather than choosing to worry about the past or future — boosts one’s serotonin, and makes it easier to be present.
Forgiveness — as opposed to holding onto grudges and resentments and stewing over them — boosts one’s serotonin, and makes it easier to forgive.
When you live as Jesus taught, you create a more peaceful, more pleasant, more harmonious world for yourself and for everyone around you.