“Anderson emphasized that resilience has diminished in the younger generations due to protection from discomfort in conjunction with the incredible ease with which quick pleasure can be obtained. He mentioned briefly the spread of so-called “safe spaces” on university campuses and applauded BYU for not instituting such spaces as they prevent students from building emotional and psychological resilience. He attributed some of this lack of psychological development to many of the mental health problems of today.”
This semester, the BYU Math Department is hosting the Master Your Mind lecture series. Thursday, the first lecture, “Is the Pursuit of Pleasure Making You Miserable,” was given by the department’s business manager, Spencer Anderson, MBA, M.S. Psychology.
Anderson addressed the following questions and topics in the lecture:
- “Does affluence breed mental illness?”
- “Who is hijacking your brain’s pleasure center?”
- “Getting out of your comfort zone”
- “Is mental health our modern-day handcarts?”
- “The pleasure trap”
To begin, Anderson described the historical context of pleasure-seeking, pointing out that obtaining convenience and pleasure required much more effort and resilience in past decades and centuries. He emphasized that resilience has diminished in the younger generations due to protection from discomfort in conjunction with the incredible ease with which quick pleasure can be obtained. He mentioned briefly the spread of so-called “safe spaces” on university campuses and applauded BYU for not instituting such spaces as they prevent students from building emotional and psychological resilience. He attributed some of this lack of psychological development to many of the mental health problems of today.
Anderson went on to cite a number of scholars and researchers who lament the increased availability of cheap dopamine. TV, YouTube, heavily processed food, fast food, food delivery, social media, pornography, legal drugs, etc., all give easy, on-demand access to dopamine. The science of this has been known and exploited by cigarette and food corporations all throughout the last century. Throughout the lecture, Anderson used the term your “drug of choice,” referring to any substance or activity that provides dopamine.
The most oft-cited scholar during the presentation was Dr. Anna Lembke, author of Dopamine Nation. She describes the homeostasis that the brain maintains regarding pleasure and pain. When we experience pleasure or pain, there is a subsequent crash or spike in the other direction. Thus, seeking after easy pleasures increases the desire for more, which can spiral into a pleasure trap of addictive, misery-inducing behavior.
In one short video clip during the presentation, Dr. Lembke indicated she used to prescribe antidepressants for her patients who were depressed, miserable, or addicted to things such as pornography or gaming. Now, she recognizes that changing behavior and, by implication, getting out of the comfort zone, is far more effective and positive for her patients. One way she encourages patients to do this is through a “dopamine detox.”
Anderson presented Dr. Lembke’s idea of a “dopamine detox” in a slightly more gospel-centered light than she does in some of her online videos. This detox involves abstaining from any number of “drugs of choice,” be it social media, gaming, pornography, or YouTube, for anywhere from one day to one month. During this time, one replaces those “drugs” with other sources of pleasure that require more work and sometimes even require some pain or strain. Hard labor, challenging projects, exercise, cold showers, music, sleep, physical touch, real-life social connection, and religious rituals and actions all provide stable and sustained dopamine in the brain. Not only do these things bring meaning, but they also renormalize your dopamine baseline, allowing more temperance when allowing your “drug of choice” back into your life.
The presentation concluded with a quote by President Russell M. Nelson from the October 2023 General Conference.
“As you think celestial, you will find yourself avoiding anything that robs you of your agency. Any addiction—be it gaming, gambling, debt, drugs, alcohol, anger, pornography, sex, or even food—offends God. Why? Because your obsession becomes your god. You look to it rather than to Him for solace.”
Anderson ended with a clear message. We know from scholarly literature and inquiry steps to take to improve ourselves, and the leaders of the Church want us to take those steps with God in our lives.
Written by: Jacob Fisher
Senior Contributor for the Cougar Chronicle
The Cougar Chronicle is an independent student-run newspaper and is not affiliated with Brigham Young University or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.