The myth that chocolate makes you happy still exists. However, it’s not just the bar that makes you happy, as it turns out on detailed observation.
What do we mean by happiness?
There are infinitely many definitions of the word “happiness” – and also many approaches: Evolutionary, scientific, philosophical and a few more. But quite simply, happiness is first and foremost a subjective, positive state of mind and means something different for everyone. However, it is always accompanied by strong positive feelings and decreased negative feelings. Hormones are responsible for this wonderful mood – and they originate in the brain. Happiness is therefore “only” a hormone fluctuation.
How does happiness develop in the brain?
It was only in the 1950s that it became known that happiness is caused by the release of hormones in the brain. James Olds, a psychologist who taught at the University of Michigan, discovered (unfortunately in a laboratory experiment with rats) that the stimulation of certain brain areas and the resulting release of certain substances led to an ecstatic, euphoric state, which was also produced and sought by the animals themselves. The interaction of the different brain regions and the exact processes can be explained in a lengthy way. The only important thing is to know which messenger substances are important: serotonin and dopamine. Dopamine in particular causes neurons (nerve cells) to produce a substance that acts similarly to opium – euphoric, intoxicating, inspiring – in short: joyful.
What does chocolate have to do with it?
It is well known that humans and animals strive for this wonderful feeling – that much is done to become happy faster, as well. The UN, for example, has established basic conditions that are at least necessary for people to be happy. Others take a less strategic approach to the “Happiness” project and, for example, practise their hobby in order to reach the state of happiness – or eat chocolate. It is scientifically proven that they make you happy. So why? This is partly due to certain ingredients, of which good cocoa has a lot to offer. The most interesting for this topic are probably:
- Tryptophan: This is an essential amino acid. Tryptophan serves as a basic ingredient for the above-mentioned messenger of happiness, serotonin, which is abundantly found in cocoa powder. Without tryptophan the transport of the lucky messengers would not function so well and the organism would be depressed or sad in case of a strong tryptophan deficiency. Science has also reacted to this and, for example, treats mild depression with tryptophan.
- Caffeine and caffeine-like theobromine: These two substances can also be found in cocoa. Both have a stimulating and mood-enhancing effect, which is perceived as feelings of happiness.
- Sugar: Sugar has nothing to do with cocoa, but can of course be found in chocolate. In the body, sugar stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin. Insulin is important for the body because, among other things, it regulates the body’s metabolism, but it also ensures, for example, that the aforementioned tryptophan reaches the brain more quickly and specifically – where it ensures an increased release of seorotonin.
- Anandamide and phenylethylamine: These two substances are also contained in cocoa and have a similar intoxicating, delightful and invigorating effect on the organism as, for example, cannabis. However, the substances in chocolate occur in such small quantities that, according to projections by the University of Cologne, an average person would have to eat about 20-30 kilograms of chocolate in order to be really intoxicated.
- Polyphenols and flavonoids: These are bitter substances that are contained in cocoa and are supposed to have a blood circulation-promoting effect on the brain. A brain with a stronger blood circulation should not only have a positive effect on the formation of happiness hormones, but also be used for the preventive treatment of strokes or dementia (this is still being researched) – but as with anandamide and phenylethylamine, the dosage in normal chocolate is actually too low to benefit from a noticeable effect during normal consumption.
So what does chocolate have in it that makes people so happy? Here we come to the second big point: the psychological effect. There are two common explanations for this:
- The evolutionary based assumption: In order to keep the organism running, it was especially important for the early humans to consume high-calorie, high-fat and high-sugar food. If these were given to them, they would be physically fit, strengthened and mentally satisfied – just happy. The neuronal reward centre of the brain rewards the person (in the past as well as today) for having supplied the body sufficiently (in this context one can even speak of a chocolate high). At that time it made sense, today it is actually outdated. However, it is well known that what evolution has come up with takes a few centuries to change.
- The soul effect: Most people used chocolate as a reward or comfort during their childhood – we were conditioned, so to speak. And that works so well that we continue this conditioning voluntarily. Chocolate is therefore a good mood food, a so-called “mood food”, which brings us a good mood for various reasons.
Which other foods could be called “Mood Food”?
- Now to constantly reach for chocolate is indeed the tastiest, but not consistently healthiest solution. But since mother nature meant well with us, many of the – to put it simply – happy substances are also contained in other foods, for example:
- – Bananas, pineapples, cashew nuts: They contain as much tryptophan as hardly any other food.
- Dried fruits such as dates and figs: in addition to tryptophan, you can score points for magnesium, which is supposed to make us more resilient to stress.
- Ginger and chilli: the spiciness stimulates nerves in the mouth, which in turn releases the release of endorphins in the brain.- Avocado, mushrooms and broccoli: contain many B vitamins which have a stabilizing effect on the psyche.
- Avocado, Champignons und Brokkoli: enthalten viele B-Vitamine, die sich stabilisierend auf die Psyche auswirken
What do the fairafric chocolate experts have to say about this?
No question about it, fruit, vegetables and nuts are indispensable for a balanced diet. Nevertheless, we agree with Richard Paul Evans: “Chocolate is God’s excuse for broccoli”. Amen, brother!