Why do some people continually strive for more and fail to enjoy what they have? Why do others find fulfillment in what they have but fail to pursue possibilities of a better future? An internal tension exists in every person. That tension presents a challenge to manage between what is and what could be. “The Molecule of More,” by psychiatrist Daniel Lieberman and physicist Michael Long, explains that all-too-human tension from a scientifically researched perspective elucidated through many relatable examples. The book sits within the field of psychology, specifically dealing with human physiology and the impact of chemicals within the human brain and the resulting emotions and actions attached to them.
The subject of the book’s title identifies, explains, and illustrates dopamine as “the molecule of more.” Initially dubbed the pleasure molecule, recent research concludes that dopamine does more than deliver pleasure. The authors bluntly state a recent hypothesis, “dopamine. . .isn’t about pleasure at all.” This chemical serves to explain and even predict human behavior across a wide range of fields. Dopamine reacts to the serendipitous, future possibilities, and the unexpected. In contrast, other chemicals (i.e., serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins) give pleasure from emotion and sensation. In other words, they are “here and now” (H&N) chemicals that allow one to experience, even enjoy, the present. All people have some combination of the various chemicals that influence emotions and actions.
The book unpacks dopamine’s effect on an individual and personal level. If that person serves as a leader, the implications become corporate as well. The effect experienced individually within a senior leader’s life inevitably influences the group he or she leads. The senior leadership role includes clear communication, creating culture, and casting vision for the organization. On the one hand, every organization exists within a present reality. A leader needs to honestly define the current reality, whether good, bad or somewhere between. On the other hand, a leader also needs to lead toward the organization’s future. Where are we going? How will we get there? The leader’s position within the tension between “here and now” versus “then and there” impacts those they lead in that same direction.
An overemphasis on the attachment to the present stunts the development and growth of any organization. In a rapidly changing world, a lack of substantive change will inevitably consign that organization to ineffectiveness. For example, in a ministry context, a church’s strategies and cultural engagement during the time of Christendom in America must shift in a post-Christian culture. Without changing the content, the methods must adapt to be effective in a culture different from those that led to those strategies to engage a culture that no longer exists. Constituents overly tied to the present may resist needed change implemented by leaders and seek to sabotage change efforts within systems, as described by Edwin Friedman.
An overemphasis on the possibilities yet to be realized can create a sense of exhaustion and confusion within an organization. A continual focus toward the “next hill” never allows for the present accomplishments to be celebrated and enjoyed. An example from the book quotes Buzz Aldrin after his historic trip to the moon, “It’s something we did. Now we should do something else.” The first trip to the moon present ample opportunity to celebrate and reflect on a significant accomplishment. Many people worked to realize that accomplishment and quickly moving on to another does not allow for recognition of their efforts. As the authors state, “Living our lives in the abstract, unreal, dopaminergic world of future possibilities comes at a cost, and that cost is happiness.” I believe that statement to prove true individually and corporately.
I fall on the high-dopamine side of the spectrum. I remember getting into the car after my first marathon. “I just want to do one” I promised often before that day. I closed the car door and turned to my wife and said, “I know I can a lot better. There is another marathon in fall. I am going to enter it tomorrow.” A time to celebrate turned into an immediate desire for another level of performance. In a ministry context as a lead pastor, my emphasis in the early years fell on possibilities and vision of a preferred future. “Wins,” whether they were accomplishments toward goals or the efforts of those who made it happen, were not celebrated. I paid the price for that oversight. I have learned that recognizing accomplishments works hand-in-hand with vision because it creates organizational confidence that future dreams are achievable. Lieberman and Long conclude their work with the encouragement to find “harmony.” They state, “If we are able to mingle dopamine with H&N, we can achieve that harmony.” Individuals and organizations can find an appropriate balance between what is and what could be. May leaders and those they lead find greater happiness in that appropriate space.
 Daniel Z. Lieberman and Michael E. Long, The Molecule of More (Dallas: BenBella Books, Inc. 2018), 3.
 Ibid., xvi.
 Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve (New York: Church Publishing, 2017), 2.
 Lieberman and Long, The Molecule of More 79.
 Ibid., 218.
 Ibid., 223.