By Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo
This book is a new approach in looking at self-indulgence and to why pleasure-seeking activities causes more pain rather than giving us more pleasure in the long run. “Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence” by Anna Lembeke makes a case of why we should curb our self-gratifying activities and do the opposite of seeking the pain of discipline to attain not just pleasure but fulfillment.
Dopamine is often called the “happy hormone”. Pursuing and enjoying pleasure will spike dopamine in our brain, but every dopamine spike is followed by a prolonged dopamine crash. With dopamine crash you will feel deep regret and sadness after a dose of pleasure. The author uses the metaphor of a seesaw that kids would play in a park. She calls it the pleasure-pain seesaw. On one side of the seesaw is pleasure and the other side is pain. When you indulge in activities such as checking your phone for interesting messages, consume your favorite comfort food, or play an immersive favorite video game, you sit on the pleasure side of the seesaw. But the brain must achieve balance (i.e., homeostasis) so it hires gremlin monsters to sit on the pain side of the seesaw. If you indulge in too much pleasure deep pain follows. It is equivalent to accumulating gremlins in the pain side of the seesaw. According to the author this explains why people in rich countries with access to constant pleasure have the most suicides, depression, and physical pain.
Self-indulgence will cause us to lack motivation to do most things or make us not enjoy the simple things in life. The solution the author says is to get the gremlins off the pain side of the seesaw by doing one of two things: pursue pain or abstain.
The author says, if we sit on the pain or discipline side of the see saw it can lead to its opposite, pleasure. She advises doing physical activities that requires effort but produces dopamine in an indirect but more enduring way. The three activities are taking a cold shower, physical exercise, and intermittent fasting or abstaining from food. Taking a cold shower will give you an initial shock but is followed by 200% rise in dopamine (equivalent to the dopamine rise one gets by snorting cocaine, but unlike cocaine, you don’t experience a massive dopamine deficit afterward). Vigorous exercise leads to a gradual 100‐200% rise in dopamine. And intermittent fasting (consuming only water and electrolytes) for 16‐20 hours will briefly starve the gremlins. Your energy will paradoxically rise at the tail end of the fast and you will get tremendous pleasure from simple foods (like broccoli or blueberries) when you break the fast.
Abstaining is intermittent dopamine fasting – temporarily avoiding dopamine spikes so the gremlins get bored and leave the pain side of your pleasure‐pain seesaw – until you regain a baseline level of motivation to do simple things. A dopamine fast typically means sticking to low‐stimulation activities and abstaining from: Chocolate or foods you crave (ice cream, fast food, etc.), drinking or partying, energy drinks, immersive video games and mobile apps (like TikTok and Twitter).
Only engage in low stimulating activities until your brain resets its dopamine levels and you no longer feel miserable (this can take several days). If you have a craving for a particular substance or activity, you must abstain from that substance or activity for 30 days to reset the
reward circuits in your brain. We ought to remember that life can only be enjoyed in contrast. If you are just constantly indulging yourself on pleasure and relaxation regularly or every day you will get bored and feel depressed. But if you seek relaxation only after you’ve done your duties at work, home or school, rest feels more satisfying and life in general is more exciting and fulfilling.