A few years ago I saw this show on TLC (that was back when the L stood for "Learning," instead of "Lame") about compulsive behaviors. They talked about people who were hoarders and people who were compulsive eaters. In it, I learned that compulsive behavior is a result of a lack of dopamine production in the brain; dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters in the brain that controls mood and feelings. A person with limited dopamine production will function normally most of the time, but then when they do something that they "like," their brain will produce this burst of dopamine, thereby making them feel really, really good; better, in fact, than that particular activity would make somebody with normal dopamine levels feel. The compulsive behavior happens because the person will become obsessed with feeling that feeling that they get from the dopamine rush. They will only want to do that activity, and nothing else, again and again and again. This is why they say addiction is a disease, because we're all just slaves to our brain chemistry, and wanting to have that good feeling some more isn't something anybody can help. The problem, of course, comes when your preferred behavior is something harmful to your body (alcohol, drugs, eating), harmful to your life (hoarding, gambling, shopping) or just becomes the only thing you can think about or want to do, ever, and you are, quite literally, powerless to stop yourself.
In the show they said that somebody with this problem can learn to control their compulsive behavior by choosing an alternate activity that makes them feel good, like listening to their favorite song. Of course, the alternate activity can very easily become the new compulsion, but the idea is that it is less harmful than the one that is ruining your life. I've struggled with compulsive behaviors before (the specifics of which I won't get into because I don't really want to embarrass myself any more than I've already done, but if you're really interested, email me or something) and this show was really interesting to me because I had always wondered what was wrong with me. Why am I powerless to stop myself from doing something that is obviously harmful? So, I thought I'd find myself an alternative activity that I could use to boost my dopamine levels, and see if that worked. You can naturally increase your dopamine levels by getting regular exercise, so I started walking every day (or, as much as I could). But... there was more to come...
I love to sing. Just fucking love it; always have. In college I used to have all these friends who played guitar and we would sit around my house and they would play and I would sing, but I lost all those friends and never seemed to make any more when we moved to the Bay Area, so it had been a while since I had been able to do any singing that wasn't in my car or in front of a group of strangers. It was at the same time that a friend introduced me to Rock Band, a game for the Xbox where you play guitar and drums.... and sing. Oh, hell yes. I had found my alternate dopamine-producing activity.
The great thing about Rock Band is not only, with each version, do you get the songs that come with the package, but they also come out with new songs every week. So you're able to constantly add new stuff to your collection (and rapidly run out of room on the hard drive connected to your xbox, unfortunately). They have thousands of songs you can pick from so it's hard to get bored with it. And, so, every Friday night, and also whenever we can throughout the week (which has been never lately, sadly) Hubs and I play Rock Band. Last night we played for about 6 hours, stopping only to put the kids in bed. Here are some of my favorites. We didn't do all of these last night, but they're the ones I like the most.