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What is Anhedonia and how can you fix it?

BY Tanith Carey

13th Apr 2023 Wellbeing

What is Anhedonia and how can you fix it?

Anhedonia is the feeling of joylessness and here’s the science behind how to fight it 

When you’re asked how you are, and you say “fine”, do you mean you’re neither  happy, nor sad—just a bit “blah”? 

Even though you have everything you should want—a comfortable home and friends and family around you—do you sometimes feel you’d like to enjoy life more than you do? You may not have heard of it but it turns out there’s a scientific name for feeling “meh”—Anhedonia. 

It's from the Greek for "without pleasure" and is used to describe the reduced ability to enjoy your life. 

Now the first book on the subject Feeling ‘Blah’? Why Anhedonia Has Left You Joyless and How to Recapture Life’s Highs, written by Tanith Carey and published April 13, looks at the range of reasons behind it—and gives lots of science-backed ways to beat “blah”. 

Here's a sneak preview selection. 

Every week, have an activity to look forward to


Make sure you've got something in the diary to look forward to 

When we think of joy, we tend to think of happy feelings we have in the moment. In fact, neuroscience research has found that anticipation is just as important because this makes the feel-good chemical dopamine build in your brain’s reward system beforehand.

"Make a habit of having at least one activity in your diary to look forward to, whether it’s coffee with a friend, or a visit to a favourite beauty spot"

  So every week, make a habit of having at least one activity in your diary to look forward to, whether it’s coffee with a friend, or a visit to a favourite beauty spot. 

Chase new experiences


Trying something new actually releases more dopamine in your brain

The brain releases more of the feel-good chemical dopamine into the brain’s reward pathway when it is seeking out or experiencing something new.  

So as well as having something to look forward to, add in some novel experiences too, whether it's visiting a place you’ve never been before, seeking out a new book or game or trying out an activity for the first time. 

 Listen out for birdsong


Listening out for birdsong can improve your wellbeing

We are wired to take notice of the sounds of nature for our survival. According to a 2022 study by researchers at King’s College, London, hearing regular birdsong, even if it’s recorded, improves mental wellbeing scores in as little as two weeks. 

Leave off your headphones next time you are out for a walk and really listen. 

Go for an “awe walk” 


Try leaving your phone in your pocket next time you go for a walk

When you go for a walk, are you still checking your phone and thinking about your to-do list? Researchers at the University of Southern California asked groups of walkers to really notice details of the wonders of nature when they took a 15-minute walk in nature once a week. They were also asked to take pictures of what they enjoyed seeing, like a bee collecting pollen or the view up at tall trees. 

"When they did this “awe walk” for two months, they were found to be much happier and more socially connected"

When they did this “awe walk” for two months, they were found to be much happier and more socially connected than groups of walkers who did the same, but who weren't asked to pay attention to what they were seeing and were allowed to keep using their phones to catch up instead. 

Collect good memories 


Focusing on good memories raises your levels of seratonin

People who look at sad memories have been found to have lower levels of serotonin in their cingulate cortex, the area of the brain linked to attention, making them more likely to focus on sad things. When they looked at happy images, levels of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin rose by up to 11 per cent and boosted their mood more than chocolate.  

So, keep a stack of feel-good resources on hand, like a photo album full of your favourite moments, for when you want to lift your mood

 Seek out deeper conversations

Talking to friends
Try having a meaningful conversation with a friend, where both parties share

Listening empathetically to what someone else has to say will raise levels of the bonding hormone in both you and the person you are talking to, research has found. One way to supercharge this effect is “reciprocal self-disclosure”.  

"Listening empathetically to what someone else has to say will raise levels of the bonding hormone in both you and the person you are talking to"

If you are comfortable doing so, this means revealing meaningful information about yourself while the other person does the same. Seek out a friend you can trust with whom you can talk openly without feeling judged or censored. 

Eat less saturated fat


Try a diet low in meat and dairy products to help circulation of your "feel-good" chemicals

Research has found that eating too much animal fat (like the type found in fried foods), meat and dairy products may disrupt dopamine signalling in the brain’s reward system.  

One experiment found rats who ate half their calories from saturated fat had a blunted response in their brain’s reward pathways, possibly because it increases inflammation. This may prevent feel-good chemicals circulating smoothly in human brains too.

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