Over the past two months, I have been conducting a little experiment on myself. After watching a fascinating TED talk that focused on the effects of addiction on the brain, I started to look at the things in my life that I felt I have a fixation on (the word “addiction” is probably too extreme in my case). Coffee and food stood out as the most obvious things that I have a dependency on.
What I learned from watching the TED talk was that dopamine, a chemical that activates pleasure centers in certain parts of our brain, is released by rewarding experiences such as food, sex, and drugs. According to the TED talk, over time we start to become accustomed to this dose of dopamine and slowly become “numb” to the pleasure that we once received from these experiences. It got me thinking that maybe there is some truth in that old adage “Too much of a good thing”. For a foodie, I equated to this meaning that if I ate at The French Laundry every day, after a certain period of time I wouldn’t get the same pleasure that I would get if I only ate there sporadically. I would start to get used to the dopamine levels that would flood my brain after every meal and I would start to become bored by The French Laundry. *Gulp*. Bored with The French Laundry?! Well, this can’t be good. Time for a change!
As I’m not about to change my eating habits, I thought it best to start with my coffee intake. I love coffee. I love it so damn much. It really is a morning ritual for me: wake up, zombie to work, locate coffee shop, have a warm, milky latte, begin day. I wondered what would happen if instead, I made myself drink the crappy (like really crappy) coffee at my work for four days of the week, and save the “good stuff” until Friday and the weekend? Would this make a difference? Would my brain anticipate the “good” coffee on the weekend? Would I enjoy the “good” coffee more because I am comparing it to the awful, watery stuff that I drink most of the time?
After more than two months of doing this experiment, I can say that it has been a really interesting experience. Perhaps it is mind over matter, but after four days of watery, bitter coffee, I actually do get excited for coffee on Friday mornings and the weekends. Hence why that first sip of coffee is a euphoric experience (hello dopamine!). The experience has taught me to be more disciplined – I can’t always have everything that I want whenever I want it (something I need to learn when it comes to sweets) – and that life really is about contrasts. To enjoy and appreciate the good things in life, you really do need to experience the mediocre or bad things. And, without a doubt, it has reminded me that there really is no substitute for a strong, well-crafted cup of coffee.
It’s OK, coffee, I still love you.