The brain, dopamine and holiday shopping

Each beautiful noggin is bursting with 100 billion neurons, biochemically connected by a quadrillion synapses — 1,000,000,000,000,000 places where mental messengers leap from one neuron to another.

It would take you more than 3,000 years to actually count those neurons. Laid out flat, their membrane surfaces would cover four football fields.

Mind boggling.

This is your brain.

What happens to your brain when you take it shopping? Science is now discovering how shopping activates key areas of the brain, boosting our mood and making us feel better — at least for a little while.

Peering into a decorated holiday window or finding a hard-to-find toy for junior appears to tap into the brain’s reward center, triggering the release of brain chemicals that give a “shopping high.” Understanding the way your brain responds to shopping can help you make sense of the highs and lows of holiday shopping, avoid buyer’s remorse and lower your risk for overspending.

Much of the joy of holiday shopping can be traced to the brain chemical dopamine. Dopamine plays a crucial role in our mental and physical health. Dopamine is associated with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, and it is released when we experience something new, exciting or challenging. And for many people, shopping is all those things.

Shopping is enormously rewarding and can cause someone to get caught up in the shopping moment and make bad decisions. You see the shoes and get this burst of dopamine. You seal the deal and buy them, but once they are bought it is almost a let down.

Knowing that shopping triggers real changes in our brain can help us make better shopping decisions and not overspend while in a dopamine-induced high. For instance, walking away from a purchase we want and returning the next day will eliminate the novelty of the situation and help us make a more clearheaded decision. And don’t shop when you are visiting friends and relatives. The added novelty of shopping in a new place puts you at higher risk of buying something you don’t need.

Other pleasurable experiences can also trigger dopamine release. Unfortunately for those of you who rely on the recreation center for your “dopamine high,” we will close at 5 p.m. tomorrow, Dec. 12, for an employee Christmas dinner. And on Christmas Day, we will be closed all day. As an alternative to going to the rec center, take your family out for some good food.

Speaking of going out to eat, here’s an interestingly scary way your favorite waiter can probably figure out your age. Try it and be amazed!

1. First of all, pick the number of times a week that you would like to go out to eat (more than once but less than 10).

2. Multiply this number by 2 (just to be bold).

3. Add 5.

4. Multiply it by 50.

5. If you have already had your birthday this year add 1,758. If you haven’t, add 1,757.

6. Now subtract the four digit year that you were born. You should have a three-digit number.

7. The first digit of this was your original number. (i.e., how many times you want to go out to restaurants in a week). The next two numbers are your age (oh yes, it is!).

8. This is the only year (2008) it will ever work, so try this before New Year’s Day.

PLPOA business

The Pagosa Lakes POA offices will be closed Thursday, Dec. 25, and Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009, in observance of Christmas and New Year’s, respectively. The offices will close at noon on Dec. 24 and Dec. 31.

The 2009 recreation center memberships will go on sale Monday, Dec. 15. A current 2009 membership is necessary for all members to continue use of the facility after Dec. 31.

The PLPOA monthly board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. today in the Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse. This meeting is open to members and observers. The board will approve the 2009 budget at this meeting.