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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The pleasure center in our brains.

I don't think there's any fighting it. That's my big conclusion.

What lights up the pleasure centers in people's brains will vary, of course, from one individual to another. For some, it's jumping out of an airplane, for others it's reading a really good book, and for someone else it's speaking to a group that will buzz that pleasure center and make her feel really alive.

Whatever floats your boat, once that pleasure center goes off you're going to come back for more. Whether it's more shopping, more hours volunteering, more crack, or more jogging, you'll be back. We all will be.

Monks of many different faith traditions do an impressive job of denying the world and renouncing pleasures as a way of bettering their lives, as they see it. There's certainly something to be said for that. But it's not for everyone. It's not even for most. Not by a long shot.

But I think that's okay. Because the pleasure center which most of us will never escape is trainable just like our arms and legs have muscle memory and can be taught to perform a physical task or react in a certain way. On some level, if I like something, I like it because at some point I made a choice about it - the choice to try something in the first place and perhaps later the choice to remain open about it and learn and cultivate a deeper appreciation for it. This isn't true for say, apple juice, which I've liked since I was a baby. But it is true for something like swimming, which in the beginning was terrifying and exhausting and in no way activated the pleasure center in my brain but is now something I really enjoy.

I think "pleasure center muscle memory" exists for everyone. And consequently, the important work becomes choosing what you like and liking things that are life-giving and getting really good at really enjoying those things and sharing them with others rather than directing a lot of energy at feeling guilty or renouncing the world.

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