My Dad and Juanita (his wonderful wife), came for a visit in February. They were here over Valentine’s Day and to celebrate, I had some friends over for a dinner party. One thread of conversation at the table that night revealed varying opinions on the cost-and-promise ratio of text messaging. “I think it’s making us stupid,” said one friend.
“Nah, just less verbal,” said another. “It’s about dopamine,” someone else suggested. “I think it’s about intimacy,” I said. “Interesting…,” stated a voice; “…Depressing?” floated another. And then, those of us willing to reveal our affection/addiction for texting, mentioned that several of the “Valentines” we’d received that day had been via SMS.
I set out to do some research, and in a nutshell, here’s the deal:
- Initial studies suggested that dopamine controlled the “pleasure” systems of the brain, but newer studies reveal that dopamine causes seeking behavior – it’s what makes us desire, want and seek. From a survival standpoint, we can be grateful to dopamine for keeping us motivated to move, learn, find food, etc.
- A compliment to, but different from dopamine, is our opioid system, the stuff that makes us feel pleasure. In short, dopamine makes us search, and satisfaction (pleasure) helps put the pause on our seeking practice, and find rest.
Guess which system is stronger in most humans?
- Yep, we seek more than we are satisfied. AND, with finely tuned and insanely accessible seeking instruments at our fingertips (literally), we can actually put ourselves into dopamine-induced loops: seeking, being rewarded with a new prompt, and seeking more. Interestingly (…depressingly?) the dopamine system doesn’t have satiety built-in. [Reminder: clicking the hyperlink WILL induce your dopamine system.]
Ah-ha! I’m well acquainted with the aforementioned “dopamine-induced loop.” Are you, as well?
A few days after the dinner party, I was riding my bike home on a dark, crisp evening. My headlight was flashing, the cool breeze was finding my neck, my nose and my cheeks. I felt happiness in my chest, exhilarated as my pedaling legs pushed me through the darkness. I thought, suddenly of my brother, who’d been feeling sad recently, and how I wished I could text him what I felt in that moment. I wanted somehow to share this feeling of contented aliveness.
And this is what I meant when I suggested that texting was in some way a bridge to intimacy (“in to me see”).
I’m a bit of a luddite; call me a (really) late adopter. I’ll be the first to admit, though, that I LOVE to see the text message icon smiling at me from the screen of my smarter-than-me phone. “Who wrote?” I wonder, and, “What will the message say?” Sure, often it’s practical details, logistical instructions. There’s a sexy satisfaction in the highly efficient delivery system of texting or looking something up on google – but it’s short-lived and it doesn’t sate my opioid side.
Where, when, how do you practice Pausing? Where, when, how do you practice resting in satisfaction? Resting in Pleasure? I’m not talking about hedonism; I’m talking about simply experiencing what is and tasting it in its completeness. Intimacy with the moment. No striving. No seeking.
I couldn’t “text” the rush or the joy of that evening ride to my brother’s phone, perse, but I did send him an attempt, and he texted back. And the sentiments conveyed in these messages? I wouldn’t trade them for anything. They’re the messages that trump the dopamine-loop. They’re invitations to love, revel and rest in the appreciation of, “in to me seeing” with another.
What if we were to make a pact with ourselves and those we love, to temper our dopamine tendencies by leveraging our information-fueling devices to send pleasure in equal or greater amounts? I’m not even sure I can appreciate what this means, but I know the taste of relief and sweetness that comes when I step off the seeking-cycle for a spell of satisfaction.
May a dose of enoughness find you…and may you spread it lavishly to others. And if this post has filled you with a desire to seek, check out these Valentines (belated) that I SO wish I could text to you!