MOLECULE OF MORE
Why are we obsessed with the things we want and bored when we get them?
Why is addiction “perfectly logical” to an addict?
Why does love change so quickly from passion to disinterest?
Why are some people diehard liberals and others hardcore conservatives?
Why are we always hopeful for solutions even in the darkest times – and so good at figuring them out?
The answer is found in a single chemical in your brain: dopamine. Dopamine ensured the survival of early man. Thousands of years later, it is the source of our most basic behaviours and cultural ideas – and progress itself.
# What dopamine loves more than anything else is reward prediction error, which, as we have discussed, is the discovery that something is better than we had anticipated it would be. Paradoxically, dopamine does everything in its power to avoid such incorrect forecasts. Reward prediction error feels great because your dopamine circuits get excited over the fact that there is something new and unexpected to make your life better. But being surprised by an unexpected new resource means the resource isn’t being fully exploited. So dopamine makes sure the surprise that felt so good will never be a surprise again.
# dopamine, the molecule that cultivates perpetual dissatisfaction ….Dopamine isn’t the pleasure molecule, after all. It’s the anticipation molecule. …..From dopamine’s point of view, having things is uninteresting. It’s only getting things that matters. …Passion rises when we dream of a world of possibility, and fades when we are confronted by reality
# To enjoy the things we have, as opposed to the things that are only possible, our brains must transition from future-oriented dopamine to present-oriented chemicals, a collection of neurotransmitters we call the Here and Now molecules, or the H&Ns. Most people have heard of the H&Ns. They include serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins (your brain’s version of morphine), and a class of chemicals called endocannabinoids (your brain’s version of marijuana ….. H&N companionate love, on the other hand, is characterized by deep and enduring satisfaction with the present reality, and an aversion to change, at least with regard to one’s relationship with one’s partner. …. He’s not ungrateful to see the masterpieces of Michelangelo. It’s just that his personality is primarily dopaminergic: he enjoys anticipation and planning more than doing
Those down chemicals—call them the Here & Nows—allow you to experience what’s in front of you. They enable you to savor and enjoy, or perhaps to fight or run away, right now. The up chemical is different. It makes you desire what you don’t yet have, and drives you to seek new things. It rewards you when you obey it, and makes you suffer when you don’t. It is the source of creativity and, further along the spectrum, madness; it is the key to addiction and the path to recovery; it is the bit of biology that makes an ambitious executive sacrifice everything in pursuit of success, that makes successful actors and entrepreneurs and artists keep working long after they have all the money and fame they ever dreamed of; and that makes a satisfied husband or wife risk everything for the thrill of someone else. It is the source of the undeniable itch that drives scientists to find explanations and philosophers to find order, reason, and meaning.
dopamine turns out to be the key to explaining and even predicting behaviour across a spectacular range of human endeavours: creating art, literature, and music; seeking success; discovering new worlds and new laws of nature; thinking about God—and falling in love.
# She and Demarco decide to meet again for a drink, and it goes well. They decide to have lunch the next day, too, and pretty soon their meetings become a standing “date.” The feelings are exhilarating. They touch when they talk. They hug when they part. When they are together, the time flies, just like when they dated before—and, when she thinks about it, just like it used to be with Shawn. Maybe, she thinks, Demarco’s the one. But with an understanding of the role of dopamine, it’s clear that this relationship is not something new. It’s just another repetition of dopamine-driven excitement.
Control dopamine takes the excitement and motivation provided by desire dopamine, evaluates options, selects tools, and plots a strategy to get what it wants.
We need to believe we can succeed before we are able to succeed
# Highly intelligent, highly successful, and highly creative people—typically, highly dopaminergic people—often express a strange sentiment: they are passionate about people but have little patience for them as individuals:
The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity . . . Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together . . . I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me.
I love humanity but I hate people.
—Edna St. Vincent Millay
Sometimes they even use nearly identical language:
I love mankind . . . it’s people I can’t stand.
—Charles Schulz (writing for Linus in Peanuts)y