Our pursuit of money just might be making us addicts to the rush, says psychologist Esslin Terrighena.
The successful man in Asia is always busy making more money to maintain his power, prestige and the freedom to do what he wants, when he wants. Money has become so intrinsically associated with our worldly pleasures that the mere concept of it will release our body’s own happy chemical, dopamine, into the reward centre of our brain, the so-called nucleus accumbens. This process evokes feelings of intense pleasure and urges us to repeat the behaviours that led to such a chemical high. In fact, science shows that our brains on money are much like our brains on cocaine: increasing digits on our bank accounts reward us with intoxicating euphoria; money becomes our drug.
Of course, as with all stimulating substances, these highs are temporary. The thrill of fresh money dissipates as quickly as it came. We adapt to our new circumstances – we crack open champagne, purchase a shiny item or invest the money before we are tempted to splurge it. Our luxuries become our new standard and no longer tickle us. The same cash amounts provoke weaker highs, so we strive for greater financials: The more money we make, the more we think about how to make more money. The pursuit of more wealth becomes an addictive compulsion.
In the chase for the next monetary ecstasy, we partake in increasingly risky and emotional decision-making, driven to satisfy a merciless brain that demands to be rewarded with more dopamine at any cost and will viciously flog our self-esteem if we fail. To remind us of the importance of fulfilling this craving, our brains trigger physical sensations of gut-wrenching nature to alert us to any threats to our hard-earned cash and perpetuate a constant nagging anxiety of losing all the pleasures that money can buy. We suffer tension in our interpersonal relationships as we crush colleagues beneath us while jumping to grab that dangling cash carrot or become unavailable to our significant others in the name of working hard for the family. The hunt for our drug wears us down. We manage symptoms of deflation and withdrawal by remaining on auto-pilot, pale and exhausted, but with our panda-eyes trained on the cash prize.
Although our addicted brain deludes us into believing that only more money can make us happy, research has shown that increasing financials correlate with increasing emotional well-being only up to an annual income of US$75,000. After this amount has been securely locked in, it is the people who value time over money, experiences over material purchases, and family over business who report lower levels of stress, depression and anxiety, and higher levels of quality of life, happiness, empathy and satisfying relationships.
These people successfully re-wire their brains by finding diversified, balanced ways of satisfying the dopamine craving: food, art, sports, sex, love… So while in the financial hubs of Asia, chasing the dollar remains an exciting thrill, when do we consider enough to be enough?
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