Here’s To All My Hedonists Out There: Know Why You Do It?


Since the dawning of time, human beings have enjoyed pleasure. Just listen to the word. P-L-E-A-S-U-R-E. The word itself has somewhat of a soothing feel to it. But, when your mind is stimulated to the point where you feel this euphoric phenomenon, have you ever stopped to think why? Ya know… after the orgasm.

Well that’s just the question David Linden attacks in his new book: “The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good.” Now of course before you take this Linden character at his word, allow me to highlight some of his credentials. He’s a highly regarded neuroscientist within the medical community, a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and the chief editor of the Journal of Neurophysiology. So… I’m no doctor, but neurologically speaking, the man is qualified in my book to throw in his two cents.

NPR discussed the book with Linden recently. “In it, he traces the origins of pleasure in the human brain and how and why we become addicted to certain food, chemicals and behaviors. [Linden] explained that the scientific definition of addiction is actually rooted in the brain’s inability to experience pleasure.” So in other words, addiction is literally a survival instinct for individuals that have said chemical issues.

Now here’s where things get interesting (especially for those of you who have ever been told you may have a problem, I urge you to send this article immediately to the chemically level-balanced pain in the asses who said that!) Linden explains that “there are variants in genes that turn down the function of dopamine signaling within the pleasure circuit. For people who carry these gene variants, their muted dopamine systems lead to blunted pleasure circuits, which in turn affects their pleasure-seeking activities.” He continued, “while most people are able to achieve a certain degree of pleasure with only moderate indulgence, those with blunted dopamine systems are driven to overdo it.” For example, “In order to get to that same set point of pleasure that others would get to easily — maybe with two drinks at the bar and a laugh with friends — you need six drinks at the bar to get the same thing.”

Now, let’s talk about sex baby. Sex addiction in particular. Granted, many people have issues with this addiction and frankly, flat out, don’t buy it. Linden finds that understandable yet terribly incorrect. It is admittedly rare none the less. “The truth is that just liking sex a lot doesn’t make you a sex addict, and just cheating or engaging with prostitutes or other anti-social behavior doesn’t make you a sex addict. If you are a sex addict, just like a heroin addict … you are at the point where you are having sex not because you are deriving pleasure from it, but because you need to do that just to fall asleep at night and face the day, and not have withdrawal symptoms.”

Having a better understanding of what addiction really is is helpful in the inner struggles we may feel daily. It goes without saying that defining it in this fashion will help others to help others overcome their addiction of choice. And we mustn’t forget Linden’s quote which truly sums it all up for everybody: “Any one of us could be an addict at any time. Addiction is not fundamentally a moral failing — it’s not a disease of weak-willed losers.”

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