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When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.

Neil Postman

This might sound melodramatic, but modern-day addictions are something I think we should all be taking seriously.

It’s far easier to focus our attention on the things we immediately recognise as bad – smoking, gambling, drugs – but what about the more socially acceptable addictions that not only lead to long-term feelings of unfulfilment, but also contribute to some of the worst issues we face as a planet today?

Whilst it’s easy to either bury our heads in the sand or else protest that there isn’t even a problem in the first place, perhaps the more unpalatable truth is that we need to take back control of our thoughts, behaviours and actions so that we can be the best versions of ourselves (and more active citizens in the process).

Whilst pleasure will always be a part of life, I hope it’s helpful to draw attention to how the mindless pursuit of pleasure can become problematic, especially when it comes at the expense of long-term, value-driven behaviour.

The Addictive Hamster Wheel of Instant Gratification

Simply put, addiction is the compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite negative consequences. Addictive behaviours often provide temporary pleasure, but harm overall well-being and interpersonal relationships.

It never ceases to amaze me how we march blindly through life, doing all the things we know aren’t good for us yet still optimistically hoping for the best results.

Then again, on closer inspection, perhaps it’s not quite so surprising. Things like food, sex, and other pleasurable experiences release dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of reward and motivation, which helped our ancestors to survive and reproduce. Over time, this drive for short-term pleasure has been hardwired, influencing our behaviour and decision-making processes.

Whilst this makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, it’s not quite so helpful in a 21st-century context. In fact, it can cause us to get caught in all sorts of cycles of instant gratification, often at the expense of the discipline we need to cultivate long-term fulfilment.

How To Differentiate Between Pleasure & Fulfilment

Pleasure vs Fulfilment infographic

Pleasure and fulfilment can be difficult to tell apart because they have one obvious similarity – they make us feel good. But that’s where the similarities end.

Pleasure typically refers to short-term, immediate gratification derived from enjoyable experiences. It’s usually sensory-based and relies on external stimuli, such as eating a McDonalds, receiving a compliment, or pressing ‘Buy Now’ on your latest fast fashion haul. Pleasure can be intense but fleeting, and it rarely contributes to long-term satisfaction.

Fulfilment, on the other hand, involves a deeper sense of purpose. It comes from pursuing meaningful activities and nurturing personal growth, such as achieving goals, building strong relationships, or contributing to a cause. Fulfilment is typically more enduring and has a greater impact on overall well-being.

When differentiating between the two, reflect on whether the experience provides momentary joy or contributes to lasting contentment. For an example taken directly from my own life, when I went vegan, I had to overcome the short-term sensory pleasure of my tastebuds, in favour of the long-term satisfaction of living by my values.

To break free from the pleasure trap, it helps to focus on calmer, lower-dopamine experiences that enrich life, like practising mindfulness, engaging in meaningful hobbies, or spending quality time with loved ones.

7 High-Dopamine Activities That Lead To Short-Term Gratification

It helps to first become aware of the below addictions and how they have a habit of showing up in your own life. So let’s take a closer look.

#1 Social Media

A row of people glued to their phone screens

Social media is designed to be addictive. It provides a constant stream of dopamine through likes, shares and notifications, which triggers the brain’s reward system. This leads to the compulsive need to check and recheck your phone (and the infinite scroll of doom).

At its worst, social media can lead to reduced attention span, disrupted sleep patterns, and fewer genuine meaningful connections. But even if you’re just wasting 15 minutes here or there, it all adds up to precious time that could be more intentionally spent. Plus, regularly looking at the lives of others through a highly filtered lens can lead to long-term feelings of inadequacy, depression and anxiety.

It may seem like an extreme position, but I made a conscious decision a while back not to use social media – in my personal life or for Intentional View. Whilst there are benefits to engaging with people and building a community, I’d rather use more intentional methods of communication that don’t rely on these addictive platforms.

#2 Alcohol

Whilst alcoholism in its more extreme form is generally frowned upon, social drinking is a much-celebrated pastime in our culture (after all, what is more quintessentially British than a village pub?!). I find it astonishing that despite being classed as a Group 1 carcinogen alongside tobacco and asbestos in 1988, drinking is still a completely socially acceptable toxin nearly 40 years later.

Alongside the cultural epidemic of shopping (more on this shortly), when our social spaces are designed around high street shops in the day and bars in the evenings, it makes it even more difficult to choose not to partake in these established cultural norms.

Recognising the risks associated with alcohol, I have significantly reduced my consumption over the past couple of years, and recently made the decision to go alcohol-free.

#3 Junk Food

McDonalds Drive Thru sign

We’re led to believe that disease strikes at random (a former hypochondriac like myself’s worst nightmare). Whilst it’s true that you have no control over the genetic deck you’re dealt, you do have much more control than you realise when determining which genes express themselves.

Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer are three of the largest causes of global mortality, and all are preventable to a significant extent through informed dietary choices. Rather than treating the symptoms of chronic disease later in life, the alternative option is simply to exercise control over what we’re putting inside our bodies 3 times a day.

In the Western world, where diets consist primarily of overly processed junk, we’ve forgotten the cornerstone of health – plant-based whole foods like whole grains, fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, and legumes.

So step away from the takeaway menu – no matter how good it tastes in the moment! If you’re interested to learn more on the subject, I’d highly recommend the book How Not to Die by Dr Michael Greger.

#4 Shopping

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all experienced the short-lived thrill of a new purchase, only to realise time and time again that happiness can’t be bought… But that doesn’t stop us from trying!

When it comes to fast fashion, there is no way a t-shirt can be ethically manufactured for £5. It’s really just addiction being played out on a larger scale. Because when brands are also pursuing short-term gratification (profits) over long-term fulfilment (people and purpose), it fuels an even bigger, destructive cycle of exploitation and waste.

By opting out of fad trends and relentless newness, you can embrace slow fashion and instead create demand for value-driven brands.

As a recovering shopaholic, I appreciate that this isn’t always easy – especially if you’ve bought into the notion of ‘retail therapy’. However, I recently didn’t buy any new clothes for a year and it’s without a doubt one of the best things I’ve ever done!

Try unsubscribing from tempting emails, spending your free time away from shops, and exploring some of my ethical buying guides.

#5 TV

Putting Netflix on the TV with remote

It’s crazy to think that I easily used to watch at least 2-3 hours of TV a day – without even realising it!

A bit like social media algorithms, the producers of reality shows have perfected the formula of a well-timed ad break or cliffhanger ending. It’s always just enough to keep you hooked (if you’ve ever binge-watched an entire series in one evening, you’ll know exactly what I mean).

Mindlessly watching TV discourages critical thinking and can lead us to become passive consumers. It’s also time which could be spent on infinitely more fulfilling activities, such as pursuing hobbies or personal growth.

I rarely watch TV these days. In fact, I like Feel Good Productivity author Ali Abdaal’s own personal rule that he only watches TV with company. Whilst no one’s saying you can’t relax with TV or watch something you’re genuinely interested in, if it’s taking up a lot of your time and not adding much value, you could also try reading or engaging in a more creative activity.

#6 Porn

When an estimated 91.5% of men and 60.2% of women consume porn and it’s just a couple of clicks away, we can’t have a meaningful conversation about short-term gratification without mentioning it.

Whilst I celebrate the movement to discuss sex more openly – especially when it comes to women’s bodies and pleasure – porn can have damaging effects for both men and women.

From unrealistic expectations of sex to negative beliefs about your body, porn can affect self-esteem and intimate relationships. It can also desensitise people to violent or degrading content, objectifying women as objects of men’s sexual desire. This isn’t even to get into the murky ground of consent in the porn industry, which has a history of profiting from nonconsensual content and abuse, as well as sex trafficking, manipulation and coercion.

The good news is that this is an area in which you can easily start to practice self-discipline! Try limiting your porn use or even going without for a while. You might be surprised by the effect it has on your well-being and relationships.

#7 Work

Woman working on computer late at night

Anyone can replace you at work, but no one can replace you at home.


Overworking that leads to burnout and stress, including not knowing your boundaries, feeling unable to say ‘no’, and validating yourself through promotions and ever-larger paychecks… isn’t the answer to your problems. In fact, it can lead to all sorts of dysfunctional rainbow-chasing that will never lead to true happiness.

Workaholics will often prioritise work to the detriment of personal relationships, health and overall wellbeing. And worryingly, hustle culture is often worn like a badge of honour.

I know that, in the past, I have been this person. And whilst work is still an important part of my life, I’ve learnt the hard way that aligning yourself with a cause (rather than a company) is the only true path to fulfilment. It’s also important to strive for balance, enjoying time with loved ones and taking time out to rest and recharge.

Pursue Self-Discipline Over Instant Gratification for Long-Term Satisfaction

If you find yourself struggling with any of the above, then don’t panic or beat yourself up. We grow up in a culture which conditions us to accept these addictive behaviours as normal, and in many cases even celebrates them. This doesn’t always mean that pursuing them is in your best interests, though.

The first step is always awareness, which is a powerful act alone. It’s only with awareness that we can make any meaningful changes for the better in our lives.

For starters, I would think about how intentional you’re being with your time. Can you kickstart a new morning routine or incorporate some of these more low-dopamine, healthy habits into your day?

There’s a whole other world on the other side of short-term pleasure and cultivating long-term discipline. To go against the grain and embrace the counter-cultural choice, check out my guides to intentional living, cultivating happiness, and living in alignment with your values. 💚

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