Affirmation and Dopamine

Affirmation and Dopamine

But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. Genesis 6:8

We all have learned behaviors which stimulate our brains to release dopamine – the neurotransmitter that surges when we engage in some activity we enjoy: eating a donut, having sex, or smoking. It’s this dopamine surge that feels really good and drives us to repeat a behavior. Sometimes these behaviors are harmless in themselves, but when we derive our joy, purpose, and meaning from something like a donut or sex, we’ve developed an unhealthy relationship with that thing because it can never truly satisfy. Dopamine surges don’t last and once gone, they leave us feeling empty. Additionally, the instant gratification found in donuts or illicit sex usually comes with some painful consequence later. In attempting to find happiness in that thing, we’ll always be chasing the wind, frustrated by futility.

Let me give you a personal example from my childhood. I grew up as a people-pleaser. I found affirmation in others thinking highly of me. My behavior then, wasn’t driven by right or wrong, but rather by what others thought. You can see the problem – My behavior was dependent on my company. If the neighbor kid said I should do something stupid, I agreed because I wanted to be liked. That’s where I found my dopamine. One kid liking me wasn’t enough though. I needed everyone to like me, which was impossible and emotionally unhealthy. Plus, I had to deal with the consequences of whatever behavior that stupid neighbor kid talked me into.

So, the question for us is – Where do we find our affirmation? Where do we find our Dopamine? We all desire joy, purpose, and meaning. That’s not wrong. Our problem is in where we try to find those things. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21). Wherever we find our dopamine, that’s our desire, and our behavior will follow. If we find affirmation in social media likes, then we’ll find ourselves checking our Facebook or Instagram posts a thousand times a day. If we find affirmation in praise from our boss or from a smile from a member of the opposite sex, our behavior will adapt to continually seek that affirmation.

Again, the problem is futility. No thing or person can truly satisfy us because that’s not how we were created. Today’s passage reveals the answer to our greatest needs in life. Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. We may have never even thought of pleasing God, but we were created to find authentic joy, purpose, and meaning only in a loving relationship with him. This requires conscious choice though. Reading, praying, and investing in a daily relationship with God won’t provide the same dopamine surge that we get from pornography. With porn though, the dopamine doesn’t last and there’s a painful price to pay later. Only by investing daily in a loving relationship with God can we find that which truly lasts and satisfies, because he made us to find our ultimate affirmation only in him.

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