DLGP

Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Lord, I Need a Shot of Dopamine

Written by: on January 12, 2022

Need a simplified understanding of neuroscience? “The Molecule of More” explores the dynamics of various chemicals in your brain and how they affect your feelings, perspectives, level of drive, and capacity for creativity. For a basic understanding of what’s going on in our cognition, the authors create two chemical categories, “down” and “up.” Think of “down” as the capacity to find enjoyment through neurotransmitters in the here and now. Think of the “up” as the capacity to find pleasure in the future and unforeseen things.

The authors, a professor of psychiatry/behavioral science and a physicist, briefly examine the history and study of dopamine, a chemical once thought only to induce pleasure within the body. “Dopamine delivers a feeling much more influential than pleasure. Understanding dopamine turns out to be the key to explaining and even predicting behavior across a spectacular range of human endeavors: creating art, literature, and music; seeking success; discovering new worlds and new laws of nature; thinking about God—and falling in love,”[1] argued the authors.

Their goal is to help readers have a basic comprehension of the intersection of psychology, psychiatry, and physiology to better understand our lives, the way we behave, what motivates us, what causes us to desire more, the desire for transcendence, and the way we interact with others.

Have you ever had that feeling of unsatisfaction? No matter how great life is, our relationships genuinely are, the comfort we live in, or the fruitfulness of our lives, some of us still are not satisfied. According to the authors, this boils down to our bodies’ craving for a dopamine rush due to the homeostasis and predictability of everything going on in our lives.

Therefore, it is no wonder why some people cheat on their spouse, quit their job to pursue a new one, buy more and new unnecessary things, uproot their lives and move somewhere new, and pursue chemical addictions to satisfy their mental craving for more. Fortunately, our brains are also equipped with “down” chemicals that help us to find satisfaction in the present.

The question becomes, which chemical rush will we pursue. God has created this simply-complex cognition and the capacity for control. Or, as the authors urged, “We are not at the ungoverned mercy of our desires. We also have a complementary dopamine circuit that calculates what sort of more is worth having.”[2] Knowing that our mind’s reaction to its environment and not a conscious choice equips us to step out of our given context and reconsider our impulsive desire for more.

As faith leaders, what an extraordinary opportunity we have to educate people on the beautiful complexity of our thinking and behavior as it directly correlates to spiritual formation. For example, might we consider not just the spiritual disciplines that help people grow to become self-controlled but also the incredibly natural ways by which dopamine can be built up and used in a healthy way, such as exercise, good sleep, basking in the sunlight, and eating healthy.

Pastorally, I thread psychology and physiology into my sermons, finding connections through the Scriptures to give individuals a deeper insight into why they might feel the way they feel, act the way they act, or desire what they desire.

Lieberman and Long recognize that while their book is a helpful introduction to how dopamine influences our behavior, bodies, socialization, and spirituality, they also equip readers with references to an abundance of other resources and readings to help them grow.

[1] Lieberman, Daniel Z, and Michael E Long. The Molecule of More. (Dallas: Benbella Books, 2019), 3.

[2] Ibid, 63.

About the Author

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Andy Hale

CBF Podcast Creator and Host, Senior Pastor of University Baptist Church (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), & Professional Coach

6 responses to “Lord, I Need a Shot of Dopamine”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Andy, great job on communicating the content of the book in practical ways. I’m intrigued by your statement of “threading psychology and physiology” into your sermons. Do you get any pushback for that? I ask because there are times when pastors move beyond the exegesis of a text, you can hear things like, “Hey, we want you to preach the Bible around here not all that other stuff.” Are you overt when you include those fields in messages? Is there someone you know who does that well?

    • mm Andy Hale says:

      Roy, great questions. I have not received pushback in these matters in my last two church settings. That might be because I frame psychology, physiology, and sociology within the framework of how God created us. I certainly think the more we can equip our people to understand why they think, act, and feel the way they feel about things is a powerful tool for growth.

  2. mm Eric Basye says:

    Great summary of the book, Andy. I like your consideration a the end. How do we as faith leaders incorporate these understandings into our teaching and discipleship. I need to listen to some of your sermons one of these days!

  3. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Andy: Nice essay on this most recent reading assignment. I agree that as faith leaders, this book can be a resource that we could recommend to others. The intersection of faith and science is endlessly interesting to me. If the authors ever did a follow up book to this one, that would be a line worth researching. How do the two relate? I don’t believe we have to sacrifice one over the other; they complement each other. I can see this book being a great help to someone with addictions or a workaholic type of personality that is constantly craving a “rush” of success. It explains the chemical impulse, but our faith gives us a way out of cycles of behavior.

  4. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Andy: I love how you state that it’s a matter of “which chemical rush we will pursue.” So true. As you expanded about how you weave the holistic health into your leading of the congregation, it made me think of an organization, Revelation Wellness, that may interest you. They combine fitness teachers with gospel preachers but their founder is intentional about constantly connecting to the neurobiological and physiological connections throughout our bodies.

  5. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Andy: A very engaging post. I can hear your personality in how you write. My random question is, did you get a shot of dopamine before your big race? I am intrigued on how you loop in psychology into your sermons. I agree that our who person needs to be educated and developed. We are body soul and spirit.

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