Dopamine? What I’ve Learned Most After 45 Days of Writing


You mean that chemical that stimulates pleasure in our brains?

Stay with me:

I’ve been writing “Up!” for 45 days. (You can link to past entries here.) It’s a “devotional.” Something you do to nurture your devotion to God.

Every Tuesday to Saturday morning at 5:30 a.m. emails automatically fly out as a part of this process. It’s called “Up! — Get up, look up, be up.

The idea is that I want to start my day right. I assume you do too. So in an email that takes you 1 minute or less to read, I try to help you orient yourself toward the things of God.

I’m really enjoying it.

So what have I learned most after 45 days of doing this?


Here’s what I mean:

Many people have heard that dopamine is a chemical that stimulates pleasure in your brain. We’ve heard that it makes us feel happiness when we have a strawberry muffin or accomplish something.

But as Ben Parr explains in his book Captivology, that’s a misconception.

He says that “while dopamine is related to pleasure, it doesn’t actually cause pleasure. Studies have shown that you can take away dopamine from a rat and it will still feel pleasure. What it will lose is its motivation to do anything pleasurable. In fact, a rat without dopamine won’t even be motivated to eat.”

Dopamine is like the motivation.

For me, “Up!” is dopamine. It’s motivation.

So the thing I’ve learned the most is that I need daily motivation.

You’d think that as a pastor I’d already be motivated to live a more God-inspired life. And I am.


But like many other people, I need a daily dose of Get-To-It. A regular injection of “Up.” Truth is, it’s easier to call it in; to do the easy thing; to take the wide road; to go for the quick fix; and to do what’s popular instead of doing what’s right.

In his paraphrase of the Bible called The Message, Eugene Peterson renders Philippians 2: 15 like this: “Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society.” Was that written 2000 years ago or this morning?

So yes: We need all the help we can get!

But now that I think about it, although the daily motivation zap is key, it’s still not what I’ve learned most after 46 days of writing.

The biggest biggest thing is being more dialed in to the millions of ways God is active each and every day. Big and small.

  • When you look for it more, you see it more
  • When you talk about it more, you hear about it more
  • When you give it more, you get it more
  • And when all of you hit ‘reply’ and share your stories and insights with me, I am lifted. (BTW, thank you so much for your sharing. And even though I can’t reply to all your notes, I’m still enriched by you.)

In case you haven’t signed up yet, you can do so quickly here.

I love this journey. And there’s no better drug than being fully alive.

But some days we just need some dopamine to help keep us in the game.

UP! Get up. Look up. Be up.


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