What’s in a “Maybe”?

Why humans like the thrill of the chase by Nandita Paul, Senior Strategist

Dentsu Webchutney
4 min readOct 21, 2020


Credits to the one and only the Awkward Yeti

What do people want?

Nothing like a loaded question to shake off those mid-week blues, eh?

Ahem, sorry, let me try this again.

What motivates people? (Better? Okay.) Anyone’s best guess would be money or power. A behavioural exploration of the question would underscore the human need for achievement or a sense of belonging. However, all these inferences are subjective; cultural differences, generation gaps, external influences, or regional nuances might make these findings sound a lot more ‘possibly true’ rather than ‘there’s an insight’.

In the pursuit of figuring out why humans behave the way they do, the most fundamental truth is often overlooked: we are all human. In our most basic form, we’re a body, a mind, and a heady concoction of chemicals and hormones that is driven by simple physical and chemical motives. And at the core of everything we seek, lies one magical hormone: Dopamine.

The dope about Dopamine

Dopamine is involved in reward and motivation. When dopamine is released in large amounts, it creates a feeling of pleasure and reward, which motivates you to repeat certain behaviors. We do this every day and in different ways; placing an order on Swiggy, shopping online, checking our matches on dating apps, and more.

Logically, the dopamine release should happen when you open your Swiggy box and take that first bite of butter chicken or when you open your package to find that ‘goal-weight’ beach dress. However, Robert Sapolsky, a Stanford professor, says, “Dopamine is not about pleasure; it’s about the anticipation of pleasure. It’s about the pursuit of happiness, rather than about the happiness itself.”

The process of getting a signal and doing the work, it could be searching for the perfect meal, the most exclusive deals on e-commerce platforms, or the best date from a myriad of options, is far more dopamine-inducing than the result of those actions. The anticipation of a reward is more rewarding than the reward itself. So, the anticipation of a reward is more rewarding than the reward itself. So it’s actually not about eating to your heart’s content but the thrill of constantly tracking your order. On dating apps, it’s about the possibility of that perfect match swiping right, rather than the texts from the matches you’ve already got. And we all know how fast a wish list item finds its way into your cart, the moment the price of those shoes fall.

Just when you’ve realised where half your salary is going, “Possibility” makes a grand entrance. If we were to take the same experiment and add the condition of a 50% chance of success, i.e., half the chance of getting a discount on your favourite shoes or 50% chance of finding the ‘perfect’ meme for your ever-altering mood; what may happen, pray tell? Logic would dictate that with only half the chance of success, dopamine release would drop off by half. On the contrary, if the reward is reduced by half, the production of dopamine goes through the roof! Yep, your mind is a suspense junkie.

Because, maaaaaybe…

This is the magic of “maybe”. “Maybe” is the recreational drug of the mind… addictive and available at the tap of a button! In fact, we’re all living under the influence of the feeling we want to feel the most, joy a.k.a. dopamine.

Now, humans sound like a bunch of apes feeding the junkie monkey inside. But “maybe” is so much more than that. “Maybe” is where the magic lies. It is the not knowing that kindles our imagination and sense of exploration. This is where stories are crafted and exciting tales of hope and possibility take flight. This “maybe”, with its delayed gratification and variable rewards, drives us to do everything we do.

I’m sure you’re wondering, was this a very complicated way of saying it’s about the journey, not the destination?

… Maybe.

ps: This article has been many months in the making. The Instant Gratification Monkey was in cahoots with the junkie monkey and they didn’t allow me to finish on time. Does this beat, “dog ate my homework” excuse? …Maybe.