top of page
  • Writer's pictureAnupama

Is it really success, or merely some dopamine?

All of us want success. We all want to find ways to achieve more success, or to achieve success in different areas in life. We want breakthrough success as well. So, we go about finding frames, contexts, and blindspots, and biases, that stop us from accomplishing success and achieving it.

But what if success is nothing more than the dopamine rush we get after doing things that win us the approval of the world around us?

Research shows that the neuroscience of success includes an increased level of testosterone and dopamine activity in the brain. This means that every time we get success, the brain's common 'reward network' gets activated. What we then feel is similar to what we feel when we eat good food, or have great sex, or for that matter, when we win a bet, get a salary hike - in short, succeed.

Research also shows that success can even act like a tranquilizer. It can reduce the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, thus creating mild anti-depressant qualities. The effects are powerful. It gives a sense of self-confidence, and a feeling of control over the world. It boosts the ego (in the sense of self).

So far, so good! The trouble begins when success becomes a drug.

It hijacks the reward network of the brain, and gradually we need an increasing dosage. We need a larger success, a bigger achievement, the same 10 % growth doesn't make us feel satisfied any longer, we are no longer happy with just running the show and leading it well.

No sir, now we should become industry leaders, now we MUST have the HIGHEST percentage growth, or whatever that MORE is for us. Now, that is exactly what drugs like cocaine do - hijack the reward network. They make natural, normal rewards of life seem pale and lifeless.

What's scarier?

The fact that we're fed this drug all through our life. Success, accomplishment, approval is perhaps the only drug that is being fed to humans, since the minute they are born. We need our drug, so we celebrate the child's birth. Then all through, when the child starts talking, when the child starts walking, gets potty trained, starts eating by herself, we start giving our children these little fixes of dopamine, without even realizing that it is dopamine that is getting triggered.

Do not get me wrong.

I’m not undermining the importance, and significance of a life where parents love the child, approve their accomplishments, celebrate their growth. I am simply suggesting an inquiry. An inquiry for the now grown up adults to examine and see if their drive for success is rooted in getting things done, or in this dopamine rush?

Is it possible that this celebration, this approval, this love (??), is what is getting us hooked to our dopamine rush since early on? If yes, should we deprive our children of it? No, because talk to any child psychologist, they will admit that parental approval helps boost the child's self-image. That's is NOT really an option!

However, as adults can we look past this?

Can we consciously try and give up on being success-junkies, especially the whole narrative of 'more successful than', and further the kind of false sense of success junkiness that social media further feeds our minds with. Our mind is millennia old. Is it even designed and equipped to handle the social approval of 10,000 people or more? Are all human minds, human minds in general, equipped and evolved to handle that? If not, then imagine, what success really looks like when all of this is taken away from the frame.

Now, if we take away the approval, the social acceptance, the social media support, and the dopamine rush, what would a success- junkie really look like? Would there even be a thing like success? Or like ongoing success, or someone who could be called a serial-accomplished individual?

If you have read this far, I want to leave you with a question to ponder upon- What is success? Is it the rush of a neurotransmitter that hits you in your brain? Or does it have something more, something meaningful to do with you impacting lives, irrespective of people's approval or not?

bottom of page