I woke up in November of 2019 starving.
Not for food. For joy.
Since I left school I had been on a binge.
I had never been to so many parties, drunk so much booze or had so many ‘friends’. I was controlled by my ‘instant gratification monkey’, living the care-free life of a university student. And never one to do things half-hearted, I was striving to make sure I was the best at it.
My consumption of dopamine was like a game of pinball and I was out of tokens. I sat there with my relationship in tatters, career in limbo and a stomach that was more a cesspit than a digestive system.
Where had I gone awry?
I realised my diet was all wrong.
I was surviving on a diet of junk-food joy.
I now realise that indulging the monkey in my head was satiating my need for joy, but like a sugar rush, it lacked lasting nourishment. For akin to human diets where food types have different nutritional values, not all joy is equal. There is nutritious joy and fast-food joy and the way this joy is classified is based on how it’s experienced.
Nutritious joy is any joy where you suffer to attain it.
Nutritious joy can be elusive with the feeling reflecting a warm hug, rather than an exhilarating high. You come across it when completing purposeful work, where the grind of getting the work done is worth the cause you’re doing it for.
It seeps in from strong friendships, the ones you share the low times with, not only the highs.
The most elusive form can come from yourself, where you have done the self-work to become comfortable in your own company.
Fast-food joy is where you suffer as a consequence.
Fast-food joy is often clear, not only in their highs, but in their consequences as well. We find joy in alcohol, as we forget about the regrets of yesterday and stresses of tomorrow, only to awake to the pain of a hangover.
Social media dopamine hits provide sustenance for a moment but cause a distortion of our reference points in a way that subtracts from how we perceive our life.
The feeling of ease during a Netflix binge subsides as we find ourselves no closer to improving the events we were escaping from, only further away from a feeling of contentment.
Like food consumption, all these things in moderation cause no harm. However, unlike food, where diets serve a purpose - whether it’s for health reasons like no-gluten for celiacs, moral reasons like no meat for vegetarians, or personal preference like a summer shred - our consumption of dopamine goes unnoticed.
Imagine we start bringing awareness to it. That we design life choices around it like we do with food? That we created our own dopamine diet?
What if we came to appreciate that the reason we seek fast-food joy on the weekends is because we feel unfulfilled by work throughout the week.
That we acknowledge an abundance of dopamine is to come from a holiday, so we change our spending in the lead up to ensure once we’re there we don’t find ourselves at a buffet with a small plate.
That we come to understand that our mindless scrolling of social media is a distraction to numb our pain, rather than confront underlying causes of suffering.
What is your ideal dopamine diet? What experiences would you like to have?
Are you someone who likes fasting, restricting yourself before consuming all you can in an allocated window?
Are you a ‘celiac’ who for mental health reasons restricts your use of social media?
Are you a 'vegetarian' where for personal reasons you only like to consume nutritious joy?
Hugh Jackman, a source of inspiration to me, has a blanket rule - he never goes out after a performance. Part of the reason for it is he feels the party he’s had onstage is better than anything he can imagine anywhere else. What has stuck with me is how he finds so much joy in the work he does, that the strong allures of other sources seem irrelevant. That he has designed his life so in his diet there is no need for mental fast food.
So, ask yourself, where are you finding your joy? How much of it is nutritious? What excites you so much that you would pass up any hollow-fix?
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