Happiness lies in its pursuit
Why is it that we feel the need to travel through life so ambitiously, moving from one goal to the next, with the hope that one day we will reach an end reward that would fill us with enough happiness to make all the effort worth it? Haven’t we seen enough generations go through school, to get into college, to get a good job, to build a successful career, to end up living in the nursing home of their choice? From this view it seems completely insane that we would go down such a well-known road in order to pursue a pleasurable reward that we know doesn’t really exist.
The reason for our insanity lies in the science of the brain. Happiness is a feeling associated with the release of dopamine and initially it was thought that this dopamine was released in response to rewards and pleasures we received. However after further experiments it was realised that dopamine, the biochemical substance responsible for “happiness”, was actually released during the anticipation of pleasurable rewards rather than when the actual rewards were gained!
One of the best experiment’s that was used to prove this theory was with a chimpanzee reward system. The basic idea behind the experiment is that a chimp is told to perform a certain action and once this has been performed he may be rewarded with his favourite food. The system is repeated over and over again until eventually the chimp
understands the process and thus anticipates the reward. And it is at this stage where scientist started to really see the stimulation of dopamine but it was not after the reward that dopamine was released but rather when the chimp realised that it had to perform the action. It knew that a reward would come if the action was done, and it is here, in anticipation of the reward that the chimp released dopamine. These dopamine receptors work in the same way in humans.
This is why we feel the need to keep going along the age old road, to push ourselves towards that nursing home. It feels justified because this road allows us to feel good about the anticipated reward and so for decades without question we pursue It. Our nature has been manipulated and used to push us to believe that there is a real essence of pleasure in the final reward. In reality it is just this anticipation of the pleasure associated with the reward that releases dopamine and it is because of this that we find ways to justify to ourselves that the end reward is more than the illusionary misconception that it really is.
Where to go from here? Taking advice from Frost or Watts could possibly help.
Mark Frost – “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body. But rather, to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up,totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming …. WOW what a ride.”
Alan Watts- “life is a song and we are meant to dance.”