The link between expectations, dopamine and perception

Research shows that happy people solve more problems and come up with more ideas. The search for happiness is perhaps really a search for the right levels of dopamine.

To create a 'happy' life, perhaps we should live a life with a good amount of novelty, create opportunities for unexpected rewards, and have a positive outlook.

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Self Improvement

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Dopamine and expectations

Unmet expectations, no matter how small or unimportant, are enough to put us off. Brain research on expectations shows that dopamine cells in the brain fire off in anticipation of primary rewards. When a cue from the environment indicates that you will get a reward, dopamine releases in response.

But if you're expecting a reward and you don't get it, dopamine levels fall drastically. This feeling is akin to pain. Expecting a pay rise and not getting one can create a funk that lasts for days.

Good levels of dopamine in your prefrontal cortex are critical for focusing.

Positive expectations increase dopamine levels in the brain, and these increased levels make you more able to focus. Teachers know that children learn best when they are interested in a subject. That interest, desire, and positive expectations are variations of the increased level of dopamine in the brain.

Whether you want to be happy or improve your performance at work, it would be useful to improve how you manage expectations to create the right dopamine levels.

  • The best way to manage your expectations is to start to pay attention to them and be proactive in regulating your emotions.
  • Set the scene for good performance rather than fixing problems when they go wrong.
  • Keep your expectations low but also pay attention to positive expectations you know will be met.

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