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Dopamine, Rats and Quality of Life

Dopamine, Rats and Quality of Life

October 29, 2019

Dopamine is prevalent in many of our lives. It is the desire that drives us to do certain things. It is powerful and can influence us to behave in irrational ways.

Dopamine can be triggered when we think about something. Imagining eating something delicious can increase our dopamine by 50%. Thinking of that next hit of nicotine can increase the dopamine 225%. And a hit of cocaine…increases it 400%. Why am I telling you this?

Because neuroscientists have found through fMRI that the brain scan of a person who is imagining financial gain is indistinguishable from one high on cocaine. In other words, imagining financial riches triggers a powerful dopamine release that is difficult to control.


Scientists were experimenting on rats and found that a rat in solitude prefers drinking water laced with cocaine to plain water. Perhaps not very surprising. But these rats would take it until they died. They couldn’t get enough. Their entire life was nothing more than getting that next hit of dopamine to their ultimate destruction.

Another experiment placed rats in a “rat park”, complete with other rats, open space and activities. They had the same choice. Do they take from water laced with cocaine or plain water? They took from both. They were able to lead normal, “happy” rat lives. What scientists found was that having a fulfilling life actually helps us desire the dopamine (and behavior to get it) less. Why is this important to you?
Quality of Life

We know that the influences of dopamine cause you to make poor investment decisions. When we are in solitude and/or don’t have much in our lives that provide us joy, we may become too reliant on hits of dopamine. This could cause us to constantly focus on markets, news etc… Perhaps we focus on what we don’t have instead of all that we should be grateful for. 

The Soft Stuff 

I have begun talking about the “softer” things recently. The need to help our clients find and create a high quality of life.  We can see that having a fulfilling, happy life can not only help them be happier, but I can make them become better clients because they don’t worry as much.


We are now offering assistance and ideas for individuals in transition. As an advisor, we have the unique perspective of seeing people transition “well” and those that don’t. We can be of great value helping our clients navigate transitions “successfully” – which is much more than just the dollars in an account. 


Please pass this on to a friend/neighbor/family member who is facing a transition.  Get a Life Transitions Worksheet by calling me at 612 436-3733 or emailing me at  We’d love to have a conversation about your transition soon.