What Does Black Friday Do to Your Brain?

Using neuroscience to transform Black Friday into a Bright Friday

Posted Nov 21, 2015

In “The Neuroscience of Giving” I told you about how giving to others awakens the Happiness Trifecta in your brain: dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. Together these neurochemicals create an amazing feeling and promote mental health. But what about the other direction? What is the neuroscience of shopping? As it turns out, rampant consumerism can do some very dangerous and unhealthy things to our minds!

During a chat with a dear friend, the famed photographer Robert Zuckerman, he offered the perfect solution: transform Black Friday into #BrightFriday with a collective commitment to giving and helping others.

What Does Black Friday do to our brains?

Craig Calvert/Shutterstock
Source: Craig Calvert/Shutterstock

The time-sensitive sales (buy it now!) and electrified crowds of Black Friday do give a massive boost to one of the Happiness Trifecta neurochemicals: dopamine. You’ll feel a pleasurable rush when you purchase a sizzling deal, and you will feel good...for a little while. The problem is that shopping doesn’t do much for the rest of the Happiness Trifecta, serotonin and oxytocin, and the trifecta only works when all three are working in unison. Dopamine is all about the rush.  

Think of dopamine as a thrill-seeking teen, oxytocin as a young adult, and serotonin as the parent. Primarily, dopamine is triggered by novelty, oxytocin by touch, and serotonin by meaningful connections with others. When you engage in a non-stop, dopamine-surging activity like Black Friday, you’ll assault your brain with an excess of dopamine, and without the wiser, more powerful serotonin to keep things in check. Dopamine by itself is how all addictions start; in fact, unchecked dopamine is the root of all addictions.

I’m sure we can all think of purchases we made on a Black Friday that we later came to regret, and we can lay the blame at dopamine’s reckless feet. Dopamine with good levels of oxytocin and serotonin makes your mind sharper. Dopamine without the other two (especially serotonin) just wants more and bigger rushes, like a rebellious teen when the parents are out of town. Unchecked dopamine leaves you cognitively impaired.

The most powerful experience is one where you boost dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. Black Friday doesn’t fit the bill. To fully awaken the Happiness Trifecta, you have to engage in novelty, human touch, and helping others.

The #BrightFriday Challenge

We challenge you to spend 45 minutes this Friday giving and helping others.

Your 45 minutes of giving/helping is only limited by your imagination. Clean up a neighborhood street. Rake leaves for a friend. Contact a school, religious institution, homeless shelter, or pet shelter and offer to volunteer. The key ingredients are:

  1. It must help someone else (serotonin)
  2. It must be something you don’t normally do (dopamine)
  3. Hug, or at least shake the hands of, as many people as you can (oxytocin)
Craig Calvert/Shutterstock
Source: Craig Calvert/Shutterstock

These 45 minutes will release a wave of the Happiness Trifecta neurochemicals. While you can do it alone, you’ll get a happiness turbo boost if you do it with others, because doing something meaningful with others will put serotonin into overdrive. Throw in a few hugs and handshakes and you’ll be brimming with oxytocin, too.

Post your photos, videos, and stories of your experience with the #BrightFriday hashtag (Facebook, Twitter, G+, Instagram, Pinterest) and you can help spread the Happiness Trifecta to others.

In fact, as we connect with each other this way, we get even more of the Happiness Trifecta for ourselves!

What will you do with your 45 minutes this Friday?