The most enduring image evoked by the experience of this past Christmas season is a 'plague' of shoppers swarming in the malls of the world devouring every available piece of merchandise. It is a month long documentary that begins with the scene of people being trampled by a frenzied mob breaching the doors of a Wall mart the day after the American Thanksgiving. It ends with a shot that showed blocks long lines of shoppers, many having waited over night to get the first bite of Boxing Day bargains, stampeding into opening stores.
The narrative that accompanied the documentary included the familiar themes like, "busiest shopping day of the year", "over 600 credit card transactions/minute", and some % "increase in sales". In addition to these there was a new one that especially caught my attention. At the height of the shopping spree reporters mentioned a scientific study which confirmed what has long been suspected, that the experience of shopping leaves elevated levels of dopamine at synapses in the area of the brain that creates the sense of pleasure. In other words, shopping provides the same buzz as mood altering drugs.
So, for all these years we were wrong when we've said, "It is better to give than to receive". We now know it is better for us to get than to give. That's why we swarm in the malls. How fortunate that shopping is a legal, over-the-counter 'drug'. What a bonus that Christmas allows us to O.D. without social condemnation. How unfortunate that shopping is addictive, that more shopping will never be enough, that shopping can be as self-destructive as any of the other ways we try to fill the void.