I was watching this movie the other day called the Rat race. The plot is about these six contestants who must race against each other to win two million dollars. After the movie, I started thinking about how life is a rat race for most of us. We get caught up in an exhausting and repetitive lifestyle that leaves no time for relaxation or enjoyment. A rat race is an endless, self-defeating, or pointless pursuit. The phrase equates humans to rats attempting to earn a reward such as cheese, in vain. It may also refer to a competitive struggle to get ahead financially or routinely.
Have you ever desperately wanted something but then, as soon as you get it, you seemingly toss it aside and move on to the next new thing? I'm certainly guilty of this.
If you have read the last few articles that we wrote, you are familiar with the predominant theme of our articles. I write about the things that I struggle with and the changes that I would like to see. I always try to study and understand my behaviour, among other things.
So I did a little research on brain chemistry. I came across some hard to pronounce terminologies like endorphins and endocannabinoids, which are the enjoyment, pleasure and satisfaction molecules or neurotransmitters. Both those molecules process what happens in the now. And when we focus our attention on the future, dopamine then comes in play.
Dopamine is strongly associated with pleasure and reward. Of course, it is not as simple as just that. There is a lot more to this complex chemical.
Dopamine is released when your brain is expecting a reward. So in many ways, it is the neurotransmitter for desire and motivation. It creates the feeling of needing something or wanting something in the future.
Learning this made so much sense in understanding my behaviour. Dopamine is a double-edged sword. It is a powerful source of motivation on one side and self-destructing or profound lack of fulfilment on the other side. The negative side of dopamine robs us of the sense of being present in our lives. When you are constantly chasing after the next new thing, you stop enjoying the success you work hard to attain. I feel that is a pattern we often see, especially with high achievers. I will give an example of celebrities, we all can relate to that. We may experience envy when we look at their success and contribution to society. We look at the money they have, the cars they drive, the beautiful people that they date, but I do not think we should be envious of them. Some high achievers have unhappy private lives. We get shocked every time we come across stories of celebrities who are addicted to drugs or commit suicide. We may ask, how a person who has everything would want to end their life? One possible answer is that they are unhappy and having this highly-tuned, high-performing brain comes at a cost. Keep in mind that dopamine is not acting alone. There are other neurotransmitters but, dopamine constitutes about 80% of the catecholamine (number of neurotransmitters) content in the brain. The human brain is so complicated that everything we say about the brain is just an oversimplification.
It is fascinating to learn that the reason why I would get so inspired and motivated, is also to blame for my dissatisfaction. All dopamine derived pleasures do not last. As soon as what we desire in the future becomes what we have in the present, dopamine shuts down and achieving it becomes a let down.
Sometimes you spend a lot of effort, a lot of money and a lot of struggle to get one thing, and after a while it loses its value for you. The thing never had value in itself. The value was in your mind.
Life is short, I should not be on a constant chase of the next new thing. There is nothing wrong with being aspirational. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a better, more competent, kinder person. But I have to learn to pause and enjoy even the seemingly small victories. Having a positive outlook on life goes a long way. I should appreciate the simple blessings in life. If I cannot see how blessed I am right now, no matter how much money I accumulate, I will not see it. I am not saying I do not want to be rich. I am working on appreciating and seeing the glory of every step of the journey getting there. Money matters, but not the most. Pleasure matters, but not the most. Connection matters. Memories matter. Laughter matters. I matter. I will continue to explore the things that make me happy and challenge myself as I discover more of myself. I will give myself grace when I fail.
I hope this article helps you escape from the rat race and focus more on the things that brings you fulfilment.