At a business conference a few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing Mark Waldman speak. Mark is a prolific author and considered an expert in the fields of neuroscience, communication, and personal development.
Early in his presentation he asked a simple question: “If you could only have one or the other—money or happiness—which would you choose?” (Answer before you read further.)
The Brain's Primary Motivation Is Pleasure
Most people at the conference raised their hands to vote for happiness; a few voted for money (but their hands went up rather timidly). I declined choosing between them. There’s one in every crowd, right? But I had my reasons. More on that later.
Mark went on to describe how the brain works and how its primary motivation is pleasure. He summed up the pleasure phenomenon with one key word: “More.” It turns out that the brain is wired for pleasure above all else. It is always looking for more. More love, more fun, more happiness, more luxury, more money—more, more, more.… Mark even made the point that if we don’t take time for pleasure and/or pleasurable thoughts for five minutes out of every hour, we burn out. Pleasure is that important.
Whenever we experience pleasure, the brain releases dopamine (pronounced DOPE-a-meen). What’s dopamine? The short version is that it’s a neurotransmitter, a chemical released as a signal to other nerve cells. Pleasure and rewards increase the level of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine wakes up our brain's frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is responsible for rational thought and all of the higher thinking abilities such as decision making, problem solving, goal setting, sequencing, focus, planning, and reasoning, as well as empathy and compassion.
Related reading: "Step 1 of Building Healthy Brain Habits: Dream Big, Start Small."
This understanding puts an interesting twist on conventional wisdom, doesn’t it? Like “No pain, no gain.” “Get to work!” “Quit goofing off.” (Tell that one to Jim Carrey.) Maybe the class clown was the smartest person in the class, in more ways than one!
So less pleasure, less smarts? Hmm… perhaps our school systems need to adjust their curriculum a bit. More fun = more access to our higher brain!
Increase Pleasure for a Happier Life and a Smarter Brain
So here’s the moral: have more fun, take time to do what brings you pleasure, and give pleasure to others. Worry less, get more pleasure. And you’ll engage your higher brain in the process.
Finding pleasure and the brain go together. Make pleasure a bigger priority!
To wrap up this story, it turns out that MONEY is the biggest source of happiness—that is, money increases dopamine like no other motivator! Our brains relate to money because money has represented a medium of survival for eons. It’s the brain’s job to keep us safe, so increased money, increased dopamine, hence happiness. According to Mark, research showed that happiness steadily went up as income increased. (I guess I know a trick question when I hear one!)
For more information on the brain or to learn how to increase self-awareness, check out our emotional intelligence course today.