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Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment Hardcover – August 11, 2005

3.7 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Berns kicks off this thought-provoking exploration with a simple question, "What do humans want?" He challenges the belief that we are driven primarily to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. Rather, Berns finds that "satisfaction comes less from the attainment of a goal and more in what you must do to get there." With a series of experiments using cutting-edge MRI scanning technology, he sees that the interaction of dopamine, the hormone secreted in the brain in anticipation of pleasure, and cortisol, the chemical released when we are under stress, produces the feelings people associate with satisfaction. Berns, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory, ventures into the physical world to prove his thesis, looking at bruised and reddened s&m enthusiasts and ultramarathoners collapsing after a 100-mile run. The author then brings his journey home, confronting issues in his own marriage and the sexual dissatisfaction that so often plagues long-term relationships. His conclusion is simple and compelling: people are wired for novel experience, and when we seek it out, we are satisfied. This will be a highly satisfying read for anyone interested in what gets us out of bed in the morning day after day.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Scientific American

Gregory Berns believes that the striatum, a tiny bit of tissue in the lower brain, holds the key to satisfaction in life. Berns, who teaches psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, is interested in what motivates people to seek out novel experiences as a way to achieve satisfaction--a process, he says, controlled by the striatum. Yet it is surprising and disappointing that such a prolific researcher and author of scholarly articles has chosen to entertain readers with exploits rather than science. Only a few short sections of Satisfaction focus on his own work, so we get little understanding of how neuroscience is done. Explaining brain anatomy, chemistry and psychology to a general audience is a huge challenge--and one Berns does not really meet. Each chapter has a few pages of hard science but then describes at length a visit by Berns to an exotic location or an event that illustrates how people strive to meet extreme challenges as a way of attaining satisfaction. In one chapter, Berns flies to the Sierra Nevadas to observe ultramarathoners run for hours over mountain trails, which he then uses to write about brain metabolism and exhaustion. His other trips--to a volcano in Iceland and to a sadism and masochism club near his home in Atlanta, for example--follow the same pattern. These jaunts reach a high (or low) point when he ends up in a Long Island, N.Y., kitchen, his feet immersed in warm lemon juice and fennel, waiting for a chocolate cake to come out of the oven--as the chef reads Jorge Luis Borges's poetry to him in Spanish. The final chapter is somewhat embarrassing. Berns confesses that while he has jetted around he has left his wife at home with few sources of adult stimulation and two toddlers. In addition, he complains that their sex life has become routine. He finds a solution in the sexual crucible, a program developed by a Colorado marital therapist. The result is a night of lovemaking that pleases him in a way that he equates with an ultramarathoner's high. Some readers may fall in love with Berns's quests for novelty; others may fi nd no satisfaction here.

Jonathan Beard


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (September 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080507600X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805076004
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,171,773 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Raymond Mathiesen on August 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gregory Berns is a psychiatrist and this book is his contribution to the new field of positive psychology. As a result of Brens' background the work takes a heavily medical view, rather than a cognitive/behavioral view (as taken by authors such as Martin E. P. Seligman). Berns closely examines the role of dopamine as it operates in the Striatum (a part of the lower brain/brain stem). Dopamine is the motivating neurochemical which moves us to action. It is thus not surprising that the book examines 'satisfaction', that is the joy of doing things, as opposed to 'happiness', which is a more permanent personality characteristic, and 'pleasure', which is a very transitory feeling.

The book covers various possible sources of satisfaction, including:

Gaining money,
Solving puzzles,
Electric stimulation of the brain,
Avoiding pain,
Long distance running,
Having a sense of place and an interest in mythology, and,
Sex and love.

This text is written in a very chatty style which is very readable. Each chapter contains an autobiographical story in which Berns runs an experiment, interviews an expert, goes to visit a place, etc. The science is inserted into these stories as condensed educational packets. The book is definitely written for the general public, not professionals who I think would be rather annoyed by having to read through the personal guff. Sometimes this method of combining stories and science works well. A successful chapter is, for example, "The Electric Pleasuredome" which examines Robert Heath's experiments in electrically stimulating the brain. But at other times this approach is simply not enlightening.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In exploring what creates 'personal satisfaction' this little gem explores a broad range of drivers, from neurochemistry to the laws of econonomics. While its core theme is nailed down to 'novelty produces dopamine--the brain's fuel--that drives satisfaction', it artfully weaves interesting lessons about sex, money, and personal well-being along the way. And even when the author gets a little carried away describing the more technical aspects of neuroscience, it is over in a page or two. If you like a book that makes you think, as well as giving you something new to talk to your friends about, this one is dynamite.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The title of this book is totally misleading. First of all Berns is no great writer. He inserts a lot of dialog that sounds faked. But the overall premise, that he's out looking for "True Fulfillment" is ridiculous; he is clearly not doing anything of the kind. What he is doing is repeating over and over and over his basic premise that novelty is what the brain requires. (This is because novelty stimulates the brain in particular ways that result in the release of dopamine, and this happens in a particular part of the brain called the striatum.) Then he goes on these long, boring investigations into the ways in which novelty is found in eating fine foods, sex, running, solving puzzles, etc. This book was BORING. The argument about novelty is not very convincing. He just does not justify the notion that the pursuit of novelty or novelty itself results in "true fulfillment." I mean, you can give all the examples of "novelty" you want, but if you haven't really bothered to show how fulfilling that is, do I care? True fulfillment? Hardly.
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Format: Hardcover
Part personal memoir part scientific odyssey, this book explores the relationship between pleasure and pain in the brain and how they are mediated and controlled. Ultimately, the author's goal is to explain how we attain true satisfaction in life, not merely physical pleasure, no matter how intense, since that is fleeting.

The author's quest takes him from the labs of distinguished scientists to clubs frequented by the S & M crowd, and to countries like, oddly enough, Iceland, where he describes an interesting genetic study that is taking place. The author does a superb job of discussing the relevant neuroscience without getting too technical, covering the relevant history and scientists who have contributed to various areas of the brain research into pleasure and pain. The account of Dr. Robert Heath's work was fascinating, and that's just one of the many people discussed in the book. Add in some frank discussions of de Sade's and Masoch's lives and works, and how their writings relate to the issue of pain becoming pleasure and you have one of the most interesting brain books for the layman I've encountered in recent years.
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Format: Hardcover
Bern spends about five minutes covering the issue of how the brain functions relative to dopamine and then the book becomes a disappointing travel log of adventure in the world biochemistry research. The case examples are thin surrounded by fluff of individual friendships and a hooker propositioning him in the Big Easy.

I love the subject matter; however, the content is missing in this book.
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Format: Paperback
I was looking for the science of finding true fulfillment. Instead, I got Dr. Berns' search for true fulfillment mingled with a couple of cool experiments, an incredible meal, a trip to a really trashy nightclub, a sightseeing trip to Iceland with a tidbit about restless leg syndrome, and way too much personal information. An autobiographical book may have worked, but this was obviously marketed as a popular science book about the science of finding fulfillment. Lacking a true focus on the science, the book became discursive and rambled.

However, there are some interesting tidbits. Dr. Berns introduces his readers to the striatum, a structure in the brain that is involved in our decision-making process, as well as the effects of dopamine and cortisol and explains the current understanding about how our brains process decision making. What makes us tick is itself a sufficiently compelling theme to make a decent book, but taking the reader into an SM Bar? Please. I fail to see justification for anything more than a footnote into the minds of the sick and twisted. Yup. Sick and twisted. Can one merely mention that sometimes the pain/pleasure boundary gets blurred rather than provide a graphic picture of some idiot getting his rear end beaten? Too much information with too little content.

I see this book's shortcomings as a failure on the part of the editor and publisher to truly decide where the author was going with what could have otherwise been an excellent overview of the emerging science of satisfaction.
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