The promise of pleasure

In the search for liking, satisfaction, pleasure or reward we have stumbled into the minefield of seeking, wanting, craving and desire:

"If we just keep scrolling on that app, newsfeed, any technology available with a touch of a button, I will be satisfied... just one more video of..."

"Just one more biscuit..."

"Another cigarette will..."

"This new car is just..."

 How did that happen?

It's down to the sneaky neurotransmitter dopamine! Dopamine is a primitive motivational system that makes us want to do more, it promises us pleasure so we keep wanting. Perfect when food was scarce and you needed to stuff yourself silly.... Not so perfect in the modern world we live in with technology and convenience. Technology has accidentally exploited our reward system making us want to pick up and ensure that constant stream of emails. But what does this mean for our health and happiness?

Are you mistaking the promise of pleasure or reward as happiness? Constant technological stimulation affects how you eat and sleep, ultimately affecting your health. Not to mention that stress shifts the brain into the reward seeking mode. Have you ever found yourself thinking, if I just get this task out the way I'll feel less stressed and anxious, but as soon as it's done 3 more take its place? This compounding cycle can be very detrimental to your health, but that dopamine stimulation makes you want to do just one more task. That promise of satisfaction is just too great to ignore and we get ourselves into a downhill spiral.

If that promise of pleasure is hard to identify, take a look at your behaviours. When do you think just one more? Can you see a message on your work phone and leave it until work hours? We can tire ourselves out seeking the better job, the new partner, the highest bidder, the next drink, the new gadget and often find the thing we were seeking happiness from is our main source of misery.

Kelly McGonigal suggests to first identify your own dopamine triggers. What are your promises of pleasure that cause you to seek satisfaction? Work, food, alcohol, shopping, facebook, emails, smoking, or something else. Then be mindful of how that so called reward really makes you feel, and look out for marketers who try to prey on this. Once you can understand this you will be in a better position to decide whether and how to "reward" yourself that is actually positive for your health and happiness and subsequent performance!

It is hard to distinguish the promise of pleasure or reward from the payoff we are seeking, but getting better at it will take you a step closer to a healthy work life balance and actual happiness... bliss.

Bryony Vandenberg is an Impact Associate.