Serotonin, Dopamine, building bikes & rioting (nothing architectural (nearly!))

Kevin McCloud (he of presenting Grand Designs) spoke recently on BBC Radio 3s’ Nightwaves (and also excerpted in the Sunday Times) on the benefits of making rather than buying.

A short précis if you missed it; is that your mind triggers a dopamine release when shopping which gives an instant high of ‘curiosity and anticipation’. The problem however is that this dopamine release can hit hard but only lasts a short time, then drops off quickly and leaves the shopper with a sense of loss or disappointment. The shopper will then also get the urge to shop again, to buy more to get the same ‘rush’ of anticipation.

Compare this however to the process of making something; the examples given are carving a miniature Chartres Cathedral from wood, or under the bonnet of a car or darning a sock. These pastimes release Serotonin, another mood-improving drug which has a longer release and ‘hangs around longer than dopamine’.

As some of you already know, I am a keen cyclist and I recently undertook the renovation of an old frame I had lying about from my racing days. I’d often dreamed of buying the latest, carbon fibre, team issue bike but what ensued following the rebuild of the bike was surprising. With every little component, searched and found, cleaned & polished and outbidding to win any missing parts on EBay; I began to love the old bike more and more. The more problems were put in the way and then solved, the happier I became; this theory of Serotonin release definitely works!

So, below is the photo of the completed bike:


What’s interesting following recent events is that Kevin McClouds proposal centers on the difference between shopping and the craftsmanship of making; what sort of release and subsequent downer do you get from looting? What sort of culture is it that fosters the concept of a consumerist society based on thieving and looting, sad times in England.

I guess therefore the concept of designing and building your own house (sorry for including an architectural bit!) therefore is another example of the above theory; where instead of simply buying a multi-million $€£ house, you decide to commission an architect to help visualise,design and handcraft your dream house, ahem…

6 thoughts on “Serotonin, Dopamine, building bikes & rioting (nothing architectural (nearly!))

  1. Nice article Mark and on a very interesting subject. We’re always chasing dopamine highs and I thought your link to the riots was very valid. The UK didn’t see half the amount of looting of designer goods during the riots of the 1980s, a sure sign of a consumerist society buying its own headstone.

  2. Pearls of wisdom ! It’s the strongest arguement there is for closing down Sunday shopping (the quick-fix high of the masses) and forcing people back to spending at least one day a week carefully crafting homes and gardens and relationships, around a big lunch made with thought from basic ingredients.

  3. I didn’t know the science behind it but I intuitively knew this to be true when I used to de-rust my bike wheels as a boy, the bike always felt more loved afterwards. Also a rather crappy chip-board chess board I made as a student some 30 years ago always meant a lot to me. I’ve always enjoyed adding a personalised 50% to my homes and completely renovating – and those were the homes it was much harder to say goodbye to. Would be good if everyone could understand this.

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