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Surprise! Chocolate Actually DOES Make You Feel Happy

A regular health column with common sense advice from an experienced nurse and health care manager.

Surprise! Chocolate Actually DOES Make You Feel Happy


If you are like me, soneone always gives you LOTS of chocolate candy for Valentine’s Day. Same for Easter. And Christmas. And my birthday and well, you get the point.

So I’m always sitting looking at the box. It’s usually full except for the two or three I eat before I stop to think what I'm doing. I love chocolate. So should I just go ahead, eat it all and feel guilty about overindulging?

Or is there good reason I should not feel guilty? Of course there is. I'm a nurse. I should know.

 Without trying to lead you down the path to gorging, there is no use denying that certain substances make you feel better.

If you think that total self denial somehow guarantees you feel like a better person, then I suppose giving up chocolate is the path you’d follow. But science is finally done with this issue.

Cocoa is one of those substances that trigger endorphins in your body. They are electrical signal-sending neuro-transmitters that scream at your brain: FEEL HAPPY!

You were constructed to smile because of cocoa-induced joy.

People are funny about happiness. Shaping your environment with better choices allows you to mold a useful, fulfilling, good life. But happiness is a complex system of actions, history and, let’s face it, chemical balance.

A person can want to be happy and “deserve” to be happy. But they can be stymied because their internal chemical clocks are whirling around the dial.

So if you eat in moderation, chocolate is not only an acceptable food, it’s a great idea. (Besides, it’s usually the accompanying massive lump of sugar that gives chocolate a bad reputation.)

Here’s the science in a nutshell. Your body has millions of micro mechanisms that constantly “talk” to each other thought electrical impulses. They regulate your existence. Neurotransmitters including endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine are the brain’s messengers that regulate mood, concentration, motivation, and other emotions.

These components of humanness are why exercise can give you a “high”, why laughing loudly with friends can release the same perky chemicals inside you.

Almost everyone has a “favorite food” and merely the act of eating that food produces a pleasurable twitch inside your brain. For some people, cocoa is merely a pleasant experience. For others, it's a virtual compulsion. It's very uncommon physiologically speaking for cocoa to produce a strong negative or allergic reaction.

We're sort of built to like it.

We're also "built" to be happy in many other ways as a physical preference. Even consciously thinking happy thoughts can make you feel physically better, as can listening to your favorite music or just sitting outside under the sun.

The truth is we all pretty much know intuitively what makes us feel better, although the body is not a perfect machine. That’s why addictive drugs can trick the body into dependence with the camouflage of feeling well.

While we often are ill and unhappy for reasons out of our control, science has discovered there are far more methods to shape how to feel well than we’d ever known.

One of those discoveries is chocolate. But you already knew that.

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