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Blue Star



By Scott Sullivan


Dopamine Fast

I’m displeased feeling pleasure, sad when I’m happy and dissatisfied feeling satisfied.

“You need dopamine fast,” my wife said.

A dopamine fast?

“The opposite.”

Dopamine, as many of us pretend to know but don’t really, is the brain hormone/neurotransmitter that gives pleasure. There’s more involved, such as how chemically it’s a contraction of 3,4-dihydroxyphenethylamine whose release, pharmacologists say, confers motivational salience. But big words like those are buzz-kill.

Say you eat junk, surf the net, watch TV and are “rewarded” all day by dopamine, then feel empty because you’ve accomplished nothing. In Silicon Valley, where folks in addition make gobs of money, the new trend is “fasting” — going cold turkey, not getting more of the substance “fast.”

You foreswear rich and sweet foods, sex, your cell phone, computer, TV, caffeine, drugs and all else that might trigger pleasure. Only one thing is allowed: your imagination.

Alone, you confront yourself, hang out in the woods maybe, reach beyond pleasures of the moment to explore what’s forever in you. St. Jerome — who spent four years in the desert praying to free himself from worldly desire while beating his breast with a stone — is a good example.

I foresee this fad having a shelf life shorter than pet rocks, even. But my wife said I needed dopamine fast. That’s different.

Growing up Protestant, I tried to explain to her, I feel guilty when gratified. All that’s forever in me is anhedonia.


It’s between Freedonia (like in the Marx Brothers movie) and Caledonia (in Michigan), where you can’t feel pleasure. It’s like being catatonic, just not as fun.”

“When I’m sad I shop,” she said.

Don’t I know …

“Let’s look in your closet,” she said. “All hair-shirts?”


“What’s that?” she asked.

An Amazon Plus text: Special on hair-shirts.


“What’s that?”

Nails on chalkboard. My cell phone ring tone.

“Answer. It might be an opportunity.”

This is an important call, came a robo-voice. Don’t hang up. Your Google account …”

I don’t have a Google account.

“If you did,” my wife said, “think of the dopamine rush you’d feel no longer depriving them of your data.”

I don’t want them to have my data. Or Facebook. Or Amazon. Or …

“See, Eeyore, you do have value. Once they sell your data, you‘ll never be isolated from targeted spam again. You’ll help needy programmers too. Think dopamine fasts are cheap?”

What’s expensive about living bare bones as possible?

“Ever taken a weeklong retreat to Spirit Rock in California? Paid for a sensory-deprivation tank?”

Why not just go to Fennville?

“Fennville is full of phenomena,” she protested. “You’re the one who hates everything, or says he does. But that’s a lie too. Denying pleasure gives you pleasure.”


“You’re proud of how humble you are.”

Stop! Stop!

“If it tortures you hearing the truth, I’ll go on.”

I was beaten. My only escape was that time-old political one: derail an argument you are losing with a non sequitur, i.e. introduce a new, unrelated one.

Did you know that before Jerome was a saint, I told my wife, he advised wealthy women fed up with how decadent Rome was on how to keep their vows of virginity?

“If you did that too,” she said, “you’d be quite the inspiration.”

Nice thing to say on the eve of Valentine’s …

“Silicon Valley,” she continued, “thinks it’s invented everything. How is dopamine fasting different from mortification of the flesh, which preceded Jerome even? Wearing hair-shirts, beating your breast with a Spirit Rock … how are these things not self-conceits too?”

You’re displeased by this? Let’s celebrate over a Valentine’s dinner?

“You may be a dope,” she said. “But you’re mine.”