DLGP

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

More May Not Be Better

Written by: on January 13, 2022

The existence, and perhaps extinction, of our world hinges on dopamine, according to authors Lieberman and Long in The Molecule of More. Dopamine, a chemical in the brain, “makes you desire what you don’t yet have, and drives you to seek new things. It rewards you when you obey it, and makes you suffer when you don’t.”[1] This insatiable drive for more has led to great discoveries, bold developments, and astounding creativity, but also madness, addiction, and self-destruction. Written from a social neuroscience perspective, the authors address several topics ranging from love to politics and the potential implications of dopamine. While undoubtedly dopamine “gives us power to create… to imagine the unreal and connect the seemingly unrelated” to accomplish impossible tasks, left unchecked, much like a child destroying a newly created tower of blocks, “dopamine demolishes its own” creation.[2] Given the vast power of dopamine to create and devastate, the authors arrive at the following conclusion: “There’s only one thing that will save us: the ability to achieve a better balance, to overcome our obsession with more, appreciate the unlimited complexity of reality, and learn to enjoy the things we have.”[3]

While many of the addressed topics were of great interest to me, I was enlightened to better understand the power of dopamine, especially as it relates to addictions. The authors reference two different chemicals in the brain that, when working correctly, provide balance to one another. The down chemical, called the Here & Now, or H&N, “allow you to experience what is in front of you. They enable you to savor and enjoy, or perhaps fight or run away.”[4] The upper chemical, dopamine, is the never satisfied drive for more. The authors write, “Dopamine control circuits and H&N circuits work in opposition, creating a balance that allows us to be humane toward others, while safeguarding our own survival.”[5] However, when this system is unchecked, and there is a dominance of dopamine, any concern for others or even oneself is disregarded as all that matters is the drive for more pleasure at any cost. “Prod dopamine too hard and too long, and its power comes roaring out. Once it has taken charge of a life, it is difficult to tame.”[6] Working in a low-income community plagued by an oversaturation of addiction to drugs and alcohol, I have greater empathy to understand the plight of the addict’s condition and the reasoning for what appears to be their continual choosing a path of destruction despite the personal costs. Additionally, as one with addictive tendencies, I am challenged to consider ways to ensure a healthy balance between H&N and dopamine. While full-blown addiction can be hard to tame, thankfully, it is not impossible.

Finally, I was especially intrigued by the chapter titled “Progress.” The authors make an interesting connection between increased levels of dopamine and the migration of people. Furthermore, they suggest this migration is due to a milder form of bipolar known as hypomania. These people “enjoy such things as enhanced motivation, creativity, a tendency toward bold actions and risk-taking, and other characteristics that reflect higher than average levels of dopamine activity.”[7] Given the migration of people and the discovery of new lands, Americans have a high degree of this dopaminergic drive. In fact, Tocqueville described America as a “nation inhabited by hyperthymics,” that is, those who demonstrate hypomanic tendencies.[8] In many regards, the US would not be what it is today apart from this dopaminergic drive, yet, the authors indicate this progress has not come without a cost:

When the human race lived in scarcity and on the brink of extinction, the drive for more kept us alive. Dopamine was the engine of progress. It helped lift our evolutionary ancestors out of subsistence living. By giving us the ability to create tools, invent abstract sciences, and plan far into the future, it made us the dominant species on the planet. But in an environment of plenty in which we have mastered our world and developed sophisticated technology – in a time when more is no longer a matter of survival – dopamine continues to drive us forward, perhaps to our own destruction.[9]

This section was of particular interest for two reasons. First, a few years back, I visited the neurologist as I was struggling with ongoing headaches. Having conducted an MRI, the doctor concluded I was in good health; however, he also had an incidental finding that I have a Chiari malformation.[10] In this follow-up, he also mentioned I might have mild hypomania! Needless to say, there was much I could identify with as the authors described the hypomanic tendencies of our nation, to which my wife concurred. For example, “They often accomplish a great deal, but they can be difficult to live with.”[11] Thankfully marriage is “till death do us part!” Second, regarding the organization I have been leading since 2010, there have been many times I have wondered if my constant drive and push for more is what the organization needs most. The authors write, “It is possible that we won’t last beyond another half-dozen generations. We’ve simply become too good at gratifying our dopaminergic desires: not all forms of more and new and novel are good for an individual, and the same is true for a species.”[12] I would argue, the same is also true for organizations. I am challenged to consider, how I can be a self-differentiated leader and know when what I have to offer the organization is no longer to its benefit?

[1] Daniel Z Lieberman and Michael E Long, The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity-and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race, 2019, xvi.

[2] Ibid., 139.

[3] Ibid., 208.

[4] Ibid., xvi.

[5] Ibid., 96.

[6] Ibid., 47.

[7] Ibid., 194.

[8] Ibid., 195.

[9] Ibid., 202.

[10] “Chiari Malformation – Symptoms and Causes – Mayo Clinic,” accessed January 11, 2022, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chiari-malformation/symptoms-causes/syc-20354010.

[11] Lieberman and Long, The Molecule of More, 194.

[12] Ibid., 202.

About the Author

mm

Eric Basye

Disciple, husband, and father, committed to seeking shalom.

8 responses to “More May Not Be Better”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Eric, such a rich post. I also wrote about a leader’s impact on the organization they lead. For better or for worse, a leader influences that organization with their strengths and struggles. Knowing what you know about the diagnosis of “mild hypomania,” are there specific steps you’ve taken to manage the possible negative side of that? I’ve never been diagnosed with it, but I believe I’m on the high dopamine side. Several years ago, I instituted a Management Team that has saved me from a tendency to pursue too many new projects too quickly. I refer to the people on that team as people with their “feet on the ground” as opposed to my “head in the clouds.” Great job on this post!

  2. mm Eric Basye says:

    Hi Roy. I think just knowing that it is a tendency has helped me, such as when I don’t sleep well. It really is cyclical. I am more aware of what might be going on, such as stress, a heavy workload, or possibly a lot of ideas. I just try and capitalize on that time and get as much as I can out of it. I also realize that there are lulls, which has helped me be okay when I am not always pushing. Happy to chat more. Not sure I have it all figured out, but it has been interesting.

  3. mm Andy Hale says:

    I love the thought you put out there, “When we lived in scarcity, dopamine led to progress.”

    There is a glutton of abundance in our country. We have access to any and everything we want. We are never bored because we do not know how to be. Our minds are always tuned into something rather than open to nothing.

    I often wonder how this affects our creativity, relationships, and, yes, progress.

  4. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Eric: Great comments on the addictions section of the book. That was also of interest to me. I’ve talked with alcoholics and their struggles against their impulses to drink. Such a battle to hear them explain it and this book does a great job of explaining part of the chemistry involved in the brain. You also make some great observations on the “Progress” section of the book. I hadn’t thought about dopamine in this context before. It can be a double-edged sword; there are great benefits to striving but, like you pointed out, there can be undesirable costs, too. Since your diagnosis of hypomania, have you done some reading and research to learn more about it?

  5. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Eric: I appreciate your honesty in questioning if your desire and push for more is the best thing for your organization as you lead. What a recognizable tension for most leaders of knowing when to continue the vision casting and when to sit in the living out of the strategic planning already done. I’ll be interested to hear how you continue to process that over the years and if there is any impact on your NPO prototype as you work on developing it.

  6. Eric, I’m late to your post, but I so appreciate your vulnerability and insight. This book has me thinking on micro, mezo and macro psychological levels – How I tick, how my family (and family of origin) tick, and how progressive American culture ticks. What initial thoughts do you have regarding your final question in your post?

  7. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Eric, I deeply appreciate your vulnerability. Since my benign brain tumor and subsequent brain surgery, I have a deep amazement about the brain and how much we do not really understand about its working. It seems you too may get that same wonderment.

    Your final question is important! Their chapter on love was almost the shortest one but had important reflections. What gleanings from that chapter help shape understandings for you as you consider answers to your question?

  8. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Eric: I appreciate your open and honest self-awareness in this post. I agree that your final question is an important one to ask. I wonder if in the answer is found in your gifts being providing the balance for someone who is more inclined to the H&N? I do not really know that much about your organization but what if you were part of a DDO leadership team. A team that could embrace your drive for more and better and is refined and shaped within the community of those who appreciate it.

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