Serotonin is the good feeling of social power. We hate to acknowledge this urge in ourselves though we easily see it in others. Serotonin is your brain’s signal that it’s safe to assert yourself in the presence of rivals. It’s not aggression but the nice calm feeling that you have the strength necessary to meet your needs. Serotonin is soon metabolized so a mammals always needs to do more to get more. But the brain chooses its opportunities carefully because a misguided assertion can become a survival threat.
This is not what you’ve heard about serotonin, or about animals. We are living at a time when a romanticized view of nature is popular, and conflict is blamed on “our society.” But in past millennia, people observed wild animals and understood their social dynamics. Research in 20th-century ethology documented that abundantly. My book, I, Mammal: How to Make Peace With the Animal Urge for Social Power explains this in depth. For research, see my page on empirical research, and my reading list.
Mammals live in groups for protection from predators, but group life is frustrating. Every time a mammal sees a resource, a group mate sees it too. Natural selection built a brain that constantly compares itself to others. It withdraws to avoid conflict when it sees itself in the inferior position and it asserts to meet its needs when it sees itself in the position of strength. Cortisol creates that feeling that withdrawal is the path to survival in this moment, and serotonin creates the feeling that it’s a moment for assertion.
In short, serotonin evolved to motive survival behavior, not to make you feel good all the time for no reason. There is no royal road to serotonin. The more social power a mammal has, the more it is challenged by rivals. Finding healthy ways to stimulate it is the challenge that comes with the gift of life. A brief introduction to these facts about our nature can be found in my blog posts such as: