To find an original response to the question "Why isn't life more satisfying?" psychiatrist and neuroscientist Gregory Berns has searched inside labs, nightclubs, kitchens and bedrooms to figure out where pleasure begins and ends: inside the brain.
In his book, "Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment," Berns explores a new way of understanding human motivation, and explains why we often crave the kind of challenge and adversity that seems the opposite of pleasure and satisfaction.
You can read an excerpt from the book below.
Part of the problem with money, at least in terms of satisfaction, is that, by itself, it can't do anything. A $10 bill, after all, is just a piece of paper backed by the promise of the U.S. government to make good on its debts. But $10 will get you a pancake breakfast like the one I ate with Read, or a first-run movie (as long as you don't see it in Manhattan, or buy popcorn), or a used book. Depending upon your point of view, $10 can yield thirty minutes of at the breakfast table, two hours of escapism at a movie, or twenty hours of bliss with a good book. Conventional economic wisdom would suggest that money is only as good as what you can turn it into. But I think there is more to it than that, and it has to do with the brain's need for novelty.
The brain wants novelty, and although money is not the only means of satisfying this desire, money makes it easier to get. Many of the experiences people seek most avidly cost money -- like an exotic vacation or a meal at a five-star restaurant -- and there may even be an added value to money that goes beyond its ability to deliver raw transactional value. I call this "fantasy value," and it is a big factor in why people play the lottery. By serving as a sort of placeholder for potential purchases, money becomes an intermediary step on the road to satisfying experiences. Show me a $10 bill, and I see pancakes, movies, and novels all at once, and there is a certain amount of pleasure in dwelling in this state of possibility. This is perfectly fine as long as you don't lose sight of the goal, a satisfying experience. But experience being nebulous and money concrete, money becomes the easier target at which to aim. What you can count, you know you've hit.
Consider what you can buy for five cents: a piece of bubble-gum -- if that. Now consider what you can buy with $5: a cheap lunch, an expensive coffee, some socks, a couple of gallons of gas. And for $500, you can make the $5 purchases a hundred times over; you can also become the owner of a computer, a television, some nice clothes for your children, a one-way plane flight to almost anywhere in the world -- the list goes on. While each of these monetary values differs by a factor of one hundred, the possibilities of what you can do with each grow exponentially. Five hundred dollars will buy a thousand, if not a million, more things than $5 – much more than a hundred-fold increase. The buying of possibilities, and not the actual goods purchased, is what accounts for the allure of money. When you increase the number of options available to you, risk actually decreases. Financial managers call this diversification, and our brains seem to have a built-in bias to it. People prefer more choices.