The Dopamine Economy
umair haque

The answer isn’t a Dopamine or Serotonin Economy.

The answer is an Oxytocin Economy.

Oxytocin is the compassion and connection hormone. It’s the brain juice that keeps us bonded and cooperating as social animals.

It’s released every time we look into one another’s eyes. It’s released when we read stories and feel empathy for the suffering and triumph of the characters we’re journeying with. It’s released when we touch, when we see one another smile, when we hear one another laugh.

An Oxytocin Economy isn’t just about expressing ourselves. An Oxytocin Economy is about having a two-way conversation. It’s about listening — taking one another in and sharing of ourselves in a way that others can relate to. It’s about building trust, not manipulating envy or fear or outrage.

It’s about storytelling, but more importantly it’s about storymaking. It’s not about having an audience, it’s about having a conversation.

How can we create an Oxytocin Economy?

For one, we need to slow down.

An Oxytocin Economy rewards sustainable business models that acknowledge and honor the interconnected nature of commerce, the environment, and social stability.

We need to simplify.

When a baby is first born, the common practice in hospitals used to be for the nursing staff to cut the umbilical cord, whisk it away, bathe it, give it its Vitamin K, bundle it up and then hand it to mom and dad for a little bonding time.

Studies now show that the best practice is to do nothing. Just put the freshly born baby on mom’s chest, skin to skin. Don’t even cut the umbilical cord until the blood stops pulsing through it. That moment is called the Golden Hour. It’s when the rush of oxtytocin bonds mother and child, when lactation hormones kick in to give them a successful breastfeeding relationship, when important antibodies are flushed through the baby’s system to protect her from life outside the womb.

Doing less creates more trust and stronger relationships and a better ability to overcome setbacks. An Oxytocin Economy, above all else, rewards trust. Instead of creating elaborate webs of manipulative, attention-getting triggers, businesses can focus their energy on reaching out to their customers on a personal level.

We need to reward integrity instead of popularity.

In the dopamine economy, we get treats for clicking buttons that serve algorithms programmed to provide a larger reach to content that gets more engagement.

In the oxytocin economy, we can instead be rewarded for helping to deliver content that is truly relevant to the needs of our community.

Our social networks now consist of neverending newsfeeds of random articles and memes for our eternal consumption, designed to trigger our attention, fear and outrage. We’re rewarded and valued for the size of our networks and ability to get the most attention.

In the Oxytocin Economy, interaction will be valued over attention.

Instead of focusing on expanding our networks, the Oxytocin Economy focuses on deepening the relationships we make, and only when we’ve reached a level of true understanding and cooperation can we grow our network.

While the Consumer Economy was very much a paternal framework about obtaining material goods and protecting oneself from deprivation, and the Dopamine Economy transforms us into an infantile state of mind, focused solely on pleasure gratification and external approval, the Oxytocin Economy transforms us into a maternal state of mind, focused on the well-being of each other and our environment.

Speaking of motherhood, I have a child to play with so I’d better stop getting my dopamine fix and settle in for a nice afternoon of oxytocin highs.

Thanks for your thought-provoking article, umair haque. I think we could have some wonderful conversations. Feel free to check out my publication, Speaking Human. It explores the crossroads of storytelling, marketing and social impact.