“The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.”
— Carlos Castaneda
Contrary to a popular misconception, dopamine is not about happiness or pleasure. Instead, dopamine influences the choices that result in misery or joy.
Dopamine influences choices by rewarding expectations. Unfortunately, there’s a serious glitch in the dopaminergic system that helps “dumb” animals survive long enough to pass on their genes, yet threatens the survival of “smart” animals.
The glitch is that the primitive system employes dopamine rewards to encourage both logical and illogical expectations. In natural environments, logical expectations help some wild animals pass their programming on to offspring while illogical expectations ensure that other animals eliminate their DNA from the gene pool. In man-made environments, the same dopaminergic system encouraged our ancestors, who were suckers for the dopamine rewards triggered by illogical expectations, to have children who had children. Countless generations later our species is controlled by dopamine addicts who are genetically programmed to repeat the mistake of always going for the dopamine rewards triggered by illogical expectations — even when they know the choices will make them miserable.
Some are suckers for the dopamine triggered by illogical expectations of winning at gambling or using drugs. For others, it’s the illogical expectations they associate with food, sex, safety, power, acceptance, approval, attention, esteem, status, money, or religion.
Same dopamine, same irresistible, irrational, illogical expectations that breed the same self-deceptions, denials, and misery.
Examples of dopamine-induced illogical expectations:
- Expectations of future mouthfuls that keep food addicts craving the next (and the next and the next) mouthfuls until they no longer taste the foods making them obese, sick, unhappy, and craving the next mouthful.
- Expectations of gratifications that keep sex addicts spreading STDs and siring unwanted children.
- Expectations of security that make safety addicts easy prey for manipulative power addicts.
- Expectations of control that encourage out-of-control power addicts to exploit the illogical expectations of safety addicts.
- Expectations of approval that keep acceptance addicts jumping through hoops for pats on the head.
- Expectations of acclaim that keep esteem addicts striving for positions, titles, and status symbols.
- Expectations of repeating past highs that curse drug addicts with the pain of withdrawal.
- Expectations of winning that turn gambling addicts into losers.
- Expectations of converting money into drugs, foods, sex, safety, power, acceptance, status and/or more money that keep money addicts lying, cheating, stealing, destroying economies, waging wars, and killing.
- Expectations of an afterlife that dupe religion addicts into forgoing living.
- If you’re as happy as you want to be, learning how dopamine manipulates behavior can make your life even better.
- If you can admit that you would like to be happier, all you have to do is learn how to differentiate between logical and illogical expectations. And then figure out how to logically deal with the dopamine-inducing influences that make illogical expectations so tempting.
- If you can’t admit that you’re unhappy, that’s OK too. It’s you’re life and it’s your right to be miserable. But do everyone a favor and try not to share your misery with others.