Question: Why Does Chocolate Make People Happy?
Answer: There are so many reasons why chocolate makes people happy that it’s difficult to know where to start, but let’s begin with the simpler explanations. Think about the last time you ate a piece of chocolate. Did it make you happy? The chances are that it did. Chocolate makes people happy because it tastes good and provides a moment’s respite from busy, and often stressed-out, lives. For some, chocolate is a guilty pleasure, and we are firm believers in the old adage that forbidden fruit is always the most satisfying. Just seeing chocolate, or inhaling its wonderful aroma, has quickened the beat of many a chocolate-lover’s heart.
But the true explanation for why chocolate makes people happy is chemical in nature. There are over 300 naturally-occurring chemicals in chocolate, and some of them can affect the human brain via the release of particular neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are exactly what they sound like; they send signals back and forth between neurons. Certain neurotransmitters can be responsible for your emotions and the way you feel.
What does any of this have to do with chocolate? Everything, it turns out. Eating chocolate releases several neurotransmitters that have positive effects on human feelings (that is, they make people happy). One of these is phenylethlyamine, which causes alertness and a degree of excitement, quickens the pulse rate, and makes you happy. Phenylethylamine is sometimes called “the love drug”, because it arouses feelings similar to those that occur when one is in love. Another neurotransmitter, serotonin, is a mood-lifter, as well. One chemical that causes the release of serotonin into the brain is tryptophan, found in (wait for it!) chocolate.
Among the fats in chocolate is one called anadamide, named after the Sanskrit word for “bliss”. Anandamide activates a receptor which causes dopamine production. Dopamine causes a feeling of intense well-being that people often associate with being high. THC, the chemical in marijuana responsible for its “high”, activates the same receptor as anadamide. Note, however, that the anadamide in chocolate does not work the same way as THC; you will not get the same kind of “high” from chocolate as you will from marijuana, as you’d have to eat so much chocolate that you’d make yourself sick long before you got any serious buzz.
Finally, eating chocolate releases endorphins into the brain. Endorphins are known to decrease levels of both stress and pain.
All of these reasons and chemicals combine to make people happy when they eat chocolate. In the future, if anyone gives you grief about eating chocolate, just smile and assure them you’re attempting to confirm scientific research about neurotransmitters!