Slave To Yourself?

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Are you in control of your life?

I recently watched a presenter’s TED Chat titled “The key to desire in a long-term relationship” that led me to ask this very question of myself. As the name suggests, this TED Chat was about long-term relationships and why so many modern marriages end up failing. The speaker, a relationship therapist called Esther Perel, pointed out that modern-day couples frequently fail because they expect Melbourne Rat Removal their spouse to meet two contrary human needs: the need for comfort and reliability and the need for novelty and excitement.

This valuable insight made me realize how much of our lives could be viewed as a quest for both of these states of mind. Sex, as an instance, is often known to be fueled by novelty. Gary B. Wilson’s popular book and website Your Brain on Porn, as an example, explains how addiction to internet pornography is in fact an addiction to the dopamine rush one gets from locating a new video of attention. While it may seem easy to scoff at those addicted to online porn, this tendency is a microcosm of our society’s growing dependence on technology and the easy access to dopamine spikes this allows for. Those of you reading this report, ask yourselves: what motivation lies behind that act? The entire self-improvement motion is based around little dopamine rushes struck when one believes they have attained a “success.”

While what I’m saying may seem obvious, many people neglect to consider just how much they are a slave to their brain’s desire for positive feelings.

However, is this really a new phenomenon? I don’t think so. Prior to the invention of computers or smartphones allowed access to porn, people got their fix elsewhere: playboy, sensual call facilities, peep-show booths, and Victoria’s Secret catalogues all attest to that. Sure, the ease of access today is unprecedented but it’s still the same story of the brain seeking out dopamine. In the 1950s Leave it to Beaver-esque existence, the archetypal business man had to have his evening pipe, slippers, and newspaper. Is this not the picture of dopamine seeking? Immediate gratification, relaxation, and novelty all rolled into a satisfying ritual.

Okay, so we accept that we are controlled by our brains, what then? Is there any value in that understanding? Should we attempt to counter this behavior? Some think this is the purpose of religion. In the Middle Ages, for example, the Church played a vital role in controlling lusty knights who returned from Crusade with an unhealthy appetite for killing, raping, and pillaging. Biologically, those knights were likely chasing a similar dopamine rush to “addicts” of all types now.

Many religions impose rules that work to curb our unhealthy appetite for self-satisfaction, to be selfless, and care for others. The obvious caveat to this is that performing a “selfless” deed could become a different method of securing that same rush of positive feelings–and become a selfish act in itself. Believing that charity gets one into paradise is not any different than thinking that the slot-machine you’ve been playing will eventually “pay out.”

Of course, philosophers and religious scholars will contend that selfless acts add good into the world–which has a net positive impact. I don’t deny this. But my point here is that almost all of our lives are controlled by the need to feel “good” either by novelty or familiarity.

Does this make life less meaningful?
Are we all self-serving addicts?

The response to the latter question is, in a real sense, yes. The majority of our lives are spent chasing pleasure. However, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. While it may be responsible for the continued popularity of Keeping up with the Kardashians, the human brain’s dopamine reward system is responsible for everything humans have created that is charming, magnificent, divine, delicious, or just plain cool, in this world.

So, go ahead, indulge in some reality TV, sex, and chocolate and thank your brain for its (self-interested) service.

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