Happiness: Dopamine vs Choice
Happiness is a state of pleasure and contentment powered by dopamine. I believe that Epicurus regarded friendship as the fundamental aspect of happiness because, in his analysis, friendship is the primary source of dopamine. Today we know, through science, that dopamine release is related, but not limited to, being amongst people who make us laugh. Physical activity, for instance, is particularly regarded as an excellent source of dopamine release. The documentary “happy,” uses the term “flow” to describe the state of mind a person achieves when doing an activity that ignites the release of dopamine. Researchers have found that people who experience flow through their work live happier lives — regardless (to a small extent) the paycheck. And that is my problem; I haven’t yet found “flow.”
Let me re-iterate my claim and expand on the dilemma. I am interested in several academic fields and uncertain about which to follow. Moreover, I don’t know which of these fields, if any, have a practical application in which I would experience flow. I doubt, even, if any of these fields actually have a practical application.
Take philosophy for example. I love learning and thinking about philosophy. I love learning about ideas and observations that broaden my understanding and alter my thoughts. I love dialogue. But I do not love writing. And it, to my misfortune, is the primary application of philosophy. I could, nevertheless, follow Socrates’ teachings and go around questioning people. But then, I would lie on the thinner edge of the happiness vs. income chart. Even if I was economically stable, I am still uncertain that philosophy is the field that I am most passionate about, and that dialogue, the activity where I experience “flow” to its uppermost extent.
But why am I so fixated in flow anyways? Isn’t its pursuit neurotic? Think about it: to pursue flow is to consciously choose to engage in an activity that you know will stimulate a drug that, if anything, makes living more bearable. In and of itself, the pursuit of flow seems selfish and born out of purposelessness — much like ‘soma’ in “Brave New World.” If so, “flow” has reached a logical contradiction; how can I be happy when I know that the pleasure and contentment I feel is fundamentally selfish and corrupt?
I believe that happiness is not determined by our biological or our chemical composition, but rather by conscious choice. I choose whether the pleasure I feel from dopamine is righteous or immoral, which follows that happiness, is ultimately my choice. I can choose to believe that living the heavy life of philosophy is the righteous life and if so, no matter how dense it may be, I will remain unaffected, peaceful and happy.