Will Seippel | April 27, 2023

mystery box
Mystery boxes are good dopamine triggers.
Image: WorthPoint

I love dopamine. So do you. Dopamine is the “feel-good neurotransmitter” that fuels the brain’s reward system. It enables us to feel pleasure. It also helps us become motivated to achieve a particular result so we may experience the satisfaction of a “dopamine rush.”

Dopamine is responsible for what we collectors describe as “the thrill of the hunt” or, in other cohorts, “retail therapy.” We hit the bricks regularly, going to flea markets, shows, and antique stores. We dig through boxes and scan tables to find treasures. When we do, we feel a surge of excitement: that’s dopamine at work.

Earlier this month, I penned a blog post titled “The Fine Line Between Hoarder and Collector.” I mentioned Marie Kondo’s KonMari fad and her suggestion that we should sort through our clutter and keep only items that “spark joy.” But that fad was ten years ago. Today’s hot trend is called “Dopamine Decorating.” Like KonMari, its purpose is to spark joy, but it does so by choosing design elements to purposefully trigger a dopamine rush. Its aim is to surround you with items that make you joyful, such as furniture, art, and collectibles.

We Don’t Go Picking Because We Need Something

An oft-quoted line from the movie Forrest Gump is, “…life is like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re going to get.” That’s how I feel about going to a flea market or antiques fair. I may tell my associates I’m going on a buying trip, but I have no idea what I’ll buy. Primarily, I’m scouting, taking in the lay of the land. I want to see what’s available and dig through some boxes. The uncertainty is part of the attraction; I like surprises. I let the show tell me what I’m going to buy.

will seippel retail flea market
Me (right), out for some retail therapy, speaking with a flea market vendor in Maine.
Image: WorthPoint

Getting In the Zone

Just being present at a show impacts my mood. I get a psychological and emotional boost. The anticipation of what might be at the bottom of a box of photographs or a table around the corner moves me forward.

Picking stimulates my senses. The aromas emanating from food trucks, snippets of conversations between pickers and vendors, the movement of the crowd, and the crunch of kettle corn invigorate me. Looking around a fair, I recognize that most people attending feel the same way I do. That’s why they came. They love these events, too.

Scott Bea, PsyD, of the Cleveland Clinic supports my “getting in the zone” premise. He maintains that dopamine begins coursing through one’s brain before we’ve even made a purchase, saying:

“Some think the dopamine is released when you actually get a reward or purchase an item, but it begins before you make a purchase as you’re delighting in all the possibilities … it’s about the whole journey.”

The whole journey, indeed. My “zone” begins when I first decide to hit a marketplace and gets better from there.

Will Seippel is the CEO and founder of WorthPoint®, the world’s largest provider of information about art, antiques, and collectibles. An Inc. 500 Company, WorthPoint is used by individuals and organizations seeking credible valuations on everything from cameras to coins. WorthPoint counts the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and the IRS among its clients.