Want to know what a dopamine rush feels like? Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, relax. Now think about someone you love, a tasty food, your celebrity crush, the day you won that prize, or anything else that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy. Get lost in the details. If you started smiling, it’s because your recollection triggered a dopamine rush in your brain!
Dopamine is a hormone that governs much of our brain activity. Dopamine is associated with many neurological functions: cognition, learning, attention, memory, desire, pleasure, punishment, reward, motivation, sleep, mood, behavior, and voluntary movement. Dopamine is also released when we experience stress. Impulsiveness, hyperactivity, emotional reactions, and even lactation can all be traced to the dopamine response.
The single most important function of dopamine isn’t any of these things though. Dopamine gives us a feeling of euphoria, like a high, when released. Additionally, it is what’s known as a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters give signals to different sectors of the brain, training it about what is good and bad, healthy and dangerous, helpful and harmful. When dopamine is released in the brain, without realizing it, we are training ourselves to want to repeat whatever it was that produced the dopamine rush. Orgasms, for example, are one of the most popular dopamine rushes.
Dopamine is an important hormone for the survival of many species. This powerful hormone has a long history of supporting survival and procreation. For example, dopamine rewards squirrels who look for, collect, and store nuts, which ultimately ensures their survival during lean times.
Today, we live in a far more complex world where survival is no longer a primary focus. Our modern society is full of infinite luxuries, distractions, and self-destructive (rather than evolutionary-friendly) living. Thousands of years ago a dopamine rush from procreating helped to preserve the species. Today, that same dopamine rush can manifest as a porn addiction, promiscuity, or a simple distraction. Because our focus is rarely on survival these days, dopamine has become more of a hedonistic toy than a safety net.
Marketers today are aware of the euphoric highs dopamine gives us, so they create marketing campaigns based on our hedonism, addiction to pleasure, and hatred of annoyances. We want fresh breath, sexier underwear, wrinkle-free pants, and so on because those things make us feel better. We feel better because dopamine is released in our brains when we think about how these things will boost our self-image, attract a playmate, etc. In fact, when we say that we like a certain food, song, book, idea, fantasy, video game, movie, hobby, or person, what we really like are the dopamine hits they provide.
To learn more, read The Perfect Pandemic.