When something good and unexpected happens, the brain releases dopamine, which encourages us to continue seeking pleasure and awakens our motivation. How to enhance it?
Dopamine signals unexpected events, that is, unforeseen events. The difference between what we expect, or do not expect, and what actually happens is called a prediction error and it is what causes the neurons of the mesolimbic system to suddenly release, that is, physically, an amount of dopamine that is directly proportional to the magnitude of that error, to the difference between what we expected to happen and what actually ended up happening. That is the reason why, in the face of continued pleasure, when the situation is no longer a novelty, the release of dopamine is reduced, it remains weaker. And that also shows that dopamine, rather than producing pleasure, motivates you to seek it.
Dopamine, in other words, promotes pleasure-seeking behavior. Its motivating impact is reflected in a very special way in the incontinence that we have all experienced when it comes to continuing to eat once we have eaten something that tastes very good in a celebration. What opening your mouth with a canapé or a fried potato does, rather than awaken the appetite, is to increase the desire to repeat the intake to continue enjoying that meal for much longer.
PLEASURE MAKES US WANT TO CONTINUE LIVING
This seems to be the most relevant role of dopamine, since rather than increasing the hedonic impact, what increases is the incentive value of pleasure, desire, the motivation to feel it, making the ongoing behavior that seeks it more intense and frequent.
Future research will end up showing us to what extent this system is the most important when it comes to preserving the desires that maintain and increase people’s will to live. It will also tell us if the loss of this desire that occurs in diseases – or that suffered by the elderly – has to do with losses of dopamine or with dysfunctions in the motivational system that it determines and if the restoration of its levels could reverse it. For the moment, perhaps it is not an exaggeration to begin to think that dopamine is one of the brain substances most involved in maintaining the will to live at all times of life. How to stimulate dopamine levels in our brain?
LIVING IN A PLEASANT WAY: 3 KEYS TO BEING MOTIVATED
Experiencing pleasure and being motivated to seek it and initiate behaviors that tend to achieve it depend on the brain’s dopamine levels. Knowing the brain mechanisms that make them possible, there are conditions that seem essential in a good personal program to maintain motivation and desire throughout life:
1. LEAD A HEALTHY LIFE
If we neglect the overall health of the body, we can end up damaging the body’s reward mechanisms. And, on the contrary, taking care of general health, we preserve those mechanisms. For this reason, it is essential to eat a healthy diet that is free as much as possible from saturated fats, to exercise regularly and without excesses, and to try to get enough sleep.
2. SURPRISE THE BRAIN
Behaving in ways that preserve frequently active reward mechanisms in a natural way preserves the ability to feel pleasure.
This component is usually very active in young people, as they are continuously experiencing varied and novel circumstances that are highly stimulating to the brain’s motivational systems. But it is also very important that older people, especially when the first symptoms of natural neurodegeneration that we all end up suffering if we live long enough, continue to surprise their brain. It is then when it becomes more necessary than ever to generate new doses of dopamine through a behavior that is as opposite as possible to a routine type of life.
Although we do not feel like it, we must introduce variety and novelty in all facets of life. Going out, moving around, enhancing social and leisure relationships, traveling, reading, walking. And even better if we do it in company: there are studies that indicate that longevity may depend as much or more on people’s social life than on food or physical exercise they do.
3. DO NOT ABUSE PLEASURE
The repeated abuse of the natural mechanisms that allow us to obtain pleasure (always seek it and try to obtain it in the easiest and fastest way) triggers the dopamine motivational system.
If we do not remedy the situation, we can end up developing addictive behaviors related to food or drink, gambling and gambling, sex, Internet, drugs. These addictions can begin as a result of an incentive motivation but that, with abuse, it ends up becoming increasingly difficult to satisfy.