The Lizard Brain on Money: Why More $$ Is Never Enough

When does the "gotta have it- want it now" lizard brain run over the rational, logical neocortex when it comes to how much money is enough?  When the drug of "more is better" is fed over and over again with repetition.  Dr. Peter C. Whybrow, author of "When More Is Not Enough," and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), connects the dots between the world economic meltdown and the ancient lizard brain that hoards for a rainy day. He states that even when there is an abundance of food and goods, the reptilian brain still acts as though there is deprivation.  Michael Lewis, author of Boomerang, in a recent Vanity Fair article points to an interesting piece of trivia: overlay a color-coded map that highlights American personal credit over the Center for Disease Control’s map for obesity and you get a similar pattern.  No big surprise there - overindulgence in one area of our life slips over into other areas.*(from

As an addiction specialist what I know from 20+ years in the addiction field, hundreds of clients and research for Intentional JOY: How to Turn Stress, Fear & Addiction into Freedom, is that whatever we repetively do trains the brain, either positively or negatively. As Dr. Whybrow says, "If you follow the path of self-indulgence often enough, eventually you will lose the ability to self-regulate, (which is) a higher brain function."  

In simple language that means that in times of plenty the reptilian or lizard brain doesn't know how to adjust it's hoarding instincts.  Addiction anyone? I look at addiction as a continuum. At one end of the continuum are those of us in American culture that have no addictions and the other end are those whose lives are completely unmanageable with their addictions. These are the folks who have major financial, relational or health problems because of their addictions. Most of us lie somewhere in between and we still have choice.

I think the world financial crisis has the potential to awaken us to not only the mistakes we've made with money but to change the addictive beliefs that MORE will make us happy. Research shows that's an illusion and that once basic needs are met, more does not increase lasting happiness. Instead, to get the reactive lizard brain under control we need to face our fears, figure out how much is enough, and practice the discipline of daily right action.