The addicted brain: How meditation can increase liking and diminish wanting?
What brings pleasure in life? We all have experienced it, we get a success, a promotion, we win a competition. There is a sense of great accomplishment but we very often realize that this sense is feeble and vanishes quickly. Then we pass on to some other desire to reach another goal. There is nothing wrong with having the desire to accomplish things in life. If humans hadn’t had any ambition to reach new summits, we would probably still live in caves. But a wise person may question this constant urge to run in the future. What impact does it have on our sense of happiness and contentment? Are we addicted to our desires? All humans have a built in tendency to get addicted, it can be to food, alcohol, drugs, money, sex, power. Have we reached a stage where we can’t appreciate what we get (the liking aspect of life) and simply can respond to our desires (the wanting aspect of life). How can we increase our liking and diminish our wanting?
To answer this question we need to define pleasure, but most importantly, we need to know when in the process of a complete action we feel pleasure? We have been taught that we experience pleasure when we get what we want. When we finally obtain that success in a competition that we have worked so hard for such a long time. Actually we might get it all wrong. The feeling of pleasure comes from the release of dopamine in parts of the brain. This release occurs when we expect a result not when we get the result . That’s why gambling is so powerful, winning matters little, expecting to win is where we feel the rush. Which means that neurologically, pleasure is in the anticipation of a reward, the reward itself is almost an afterthought. To want things is to constantly project ourselves in the future where happiness seems to be. This is a huge and costly mistake. By being obsessed by rewards we do not realise that happiness is slipping away from us at every minute of our life.
High level athletes will have to perform the same exercises again and again in order to achieve excellence. As they practice with discipline sometimes boredom might surface. Mindfulness can bring back enthusiasm and pure pleasure in a routine that will need to be rehearsed time after time to achieve a goal. We may remain goal oriented (it has beneficial effects) but we must understand the neurochemistry behind it. It can make the sometimes difficult and demanding road of training and preparing for an event more pleasurable by diminishing our ”wants” and increasing our ”likes”.