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Is our Dopamine Nation the cause of our poor mental state?

From our coffee in the morning to that first text that we read to our Netflix binge at night, we’re all living in a chronic dopamine deficit state, according to Stanford psychiatry professor Anna Lembke. Individuals today, she argues, are exposed to so many high-reward substances that they are unable to enjoy the modest rewards of life and increasingly are dealing with anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.

So what’s going on? In her book “Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence,” Anna explains how pleasure and pain are co-located in the brain, meaning that the same parts of the brain that process pleasure also process pain. These two work like opposite sides of a balance, and this balance wants to remain level. With any deviation from neutrality, our brains will work very hard to restore a level of balance. So if you continue the behavior that releases dopamine (without giving your brain the ability to restore the level of balance), that initial spike of dopamine gets weaker and shorter, but that after-effect, which causes pain, gets stronger and longer. Eventually, we can end up in a chronic dopamine deficit state that is addiction.

Whereas previously, our ancestors often had to work harder and wait longer to get a shot of dopamine (think about how much time and effort it cost them to get something to eat), today, you can get whatever provides you pleasure straight away. From gaming, watching a movie, listening to music, reading romantic novels, having sex, food etc. And although this might give us a good feeling at the moment, if we overdo it, our brains cannot restore the balance: the initial spike of dopamine gets weaker and shorter and the after-effect, which causes pain, gets stronger and longer.

Anna refers to this as the “Plenty Paradox”: Overabundance itself is one of the most important modern-day stressors caused by the mismatch between our primitive wiring and our modern dopamine-rich ecosystem. We were not physiologically wired for this world of overwhelming overabundance that we have created.

Living in this dopamine-rich society, people need to be disciplined to prevent themselves from not overdoing it on pleasure. To restore balance we need to push on that “pain” part by engaging in activities that don’t immediately give us a pleasant feeling, but instead deliver us a positive feeling afterwards. Think about practising meditation, engaging in sports or finishing little tasks. All of these things are not immediately pleasurable while engaging in it, but will support you to keep your dopamine in check and experience contentment and connectedness in life.

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Kim Pillen

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Kim Pillen

Consultant

Before Kim Pillen started as a trend consultant at TrendsActive, she worked for four years as a creative strategist at Dept. For brands such as Philips, bol.com, Beiersdorf, JBL, and the Consumers’ Association, she built (online) campaign, brand, and social media strategies. After four years, she decided that she wanted to better understand people and society in order to advise brands more effectively. That’s how she ended up at TrendsActive. Here, she can do what she loves most: digging into people’s needs and then working with brands to see how and where they can be relevant and meaningful.

Douwe Knijff

Researcher

Douwe is fascinated by how people work. With a background in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences (Bachelor) and Psychology (Master) and an analytical mind he tries figure out how societal shifts manifest themselves through social culture and human behaviour.

Aljan De Boer

Keynote speaker

Aljan has been widely recognized as an inspiring professional speaker on the critical trends that will shape society in the decades to come. He works as the Head of Inspiration at TrendsActive, a trend consultancy from the Netherlands using social science to human-proof business decision for brands like

  • Disney
  • Vodafone
  • Hugo Boss
  • ASR
  • Rabobank

Next to his role at TrendsActive he is the Community Director at the Institute for Real Growth where he inspires and connects a global community of +400 CMOs.  

He has been on the board of the Dutch Platform of Innovative Marketing for almost a decade. Regular speaker and moderator for the Dutch Marketing Awards and 3 times winner of the best of MIE. 

Kees Elands

Founder & Strategist

Kees his purpose is to help ambitious leaders and brands to human-proof their business. In 2003 he founded TrendsActive, a trend consultancy enabling brands to become more human centric.

Kees consults global brands like

  • Disney
  • The Coca-Cola Company
  • Asics
  • Discovery Channel
  • Swiss Life
  • Vodafone

and many more.

Next to being the founder of TrendsActive, he is also initiator of the first academic trend master for executives at the University of Utrecht and is initiator of various trend studies and white papers on subjects like trust, meaning, visual culture & generations.

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Kees Elands

Founder & Strategist

Kees Elands

Founder & Strategist