Vacation Improves Well-being – Oahu Hawaii

Nu’Uanu Pali Lookout, Oahu HI

Lately, I’ve been researching more about how to improve overall happiness.  In the past, I’ve found information on factors that effect happiness through reward chemistry, usually in the context of stress or addiction.  That research did not offer an obvious solution to cope with unhappiness or the symptoms that result from it.  However, in my recent searches, I think I found a direct way to improve well-being.  The answer is vacation.

Most people have to work full-time jobs 40+ hours per week to survive or sustain their finances.  Working this much consistently does not necessarily lead to a happier life, but almost certainly does lead to burn-out.  Burn-out can detract from your life in a way that is not easily perceptible and can lead to depression, anger and a broken home life.  This often results in coping behavior that can further damage your health or finances.  It’s important to frequently take time away from the unrelenting work cycle to recuperate.

The Department of Physiology at the University of Vienna, Austria designed a study to validate that vacation improves well-being.  You can find the study here with some relevant excerpts below:


G. Strauss-Blasche, C. Ekmekcioglu and W. Marktl, Does vacation enable recuperation? Changes in well-being associated with time away from work. Occup Med (Lond). 2000 Apr;50(3):167-72.

“The current study sought to investigate the short- and long-term effects of vacation on well-being and to document factors moderating these effects. It was found that well-being generally improved from 10 days before vacation to 3 days after vacation”

“These results are supported by the findings of Westman and Eden, who found that the feeling of burn-out declined during vacation.”

“The results also show that one of the ways to promote recuperation is to take time for one’s self and for one’s needs. This notion is supported by Caldwell and Smith who define leisure in correspondence to Csikszentmihalyi and LeFevre as ‘that experience or stream of consciousness associated with self-determined participation in any activity/experience which is characterised by pleasure, enjoyment, fulfilment, competence and control’ ”


 From this study, it appears we positively anticipate an upcoming vacation and experience some residual emotional benefits post-vacation.  Furthermore, the perception of freedom we get during self-directed recreational activities on vacation can contribute to our well being.

To reinforce the value of vacation, I will be having a series of upcoming posts dedicated to additional research I’ve done on this topic.  Included in each post will be an album with pictures from one of my recent vacations.  Below, you will find various photos from my experiences the island of Oahu, Hawaii.

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We know from reference 1 in my post about consumption that novel (new) surroundings/experiences can elicit a variety dopamine responses.  Therefore, it is safe to postulate that vacations to drastically new environments can cause changes in neuroplasticity, potentially increasing neuronal flexibility.  The idioms “broaden your horizons”,  “live a little” and “get outside your comfort zone” come to mind.

On vacation, I try to have many unique experiences that I cannot reproduce during my regular life in order to efficiently maximize my reward system benefits.  In addition to seeing new landscapes and trying new activities, I like to broadly sample the local cuisine and “take a chance”.  Below you can find a secondary album containing pictures of the best food I tried at Oahu:

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For clarification, I tried the traditional Hawaiian dishes at The Highway Inn.  Rough definitions of each dish are below:

Kalua pork – pulled-pork slow roasted underground
Chicken Long Rice – like chicken soup with glass noodles
Pipikaula – like thick broiled beef-jerky
Laulau – pork & butterfish inside tarot leaves
Poi – tarot paste
Lomi salmon – like raw salmon pico de gallo
Coconut Haupia – dense coconut pudding
Squid Lu’au – like creamed spinach with squid & ink

Overall, Oahu, HI was a great experience.  It included a variety of delicious foods tending toward Asian inspired flavors.  There were beautiful landscapes everywhere.  I would definitely recommend hiking outside Honolulu, the beaches, exploring Waikiki, Honolulu Zoo and trying native Hawaiian cuisine.  Also, plan to rent a car to maximize your exploration potential.  You might want to scope out some cheaper parking alternatives before you go, and brush up on your budgeting potential to save for the flight there.  Don’t let the rat race perpetually tear down your emotions.  Vacation is worth much more to your mental health than the dollars you spend on it.


1.) Vacations can significantly reduce burn-out.

2.) The emotional benefits of vacation can be anticipatory and retroactive.

3.) New experiences can yield dopamine reward signalling and likely improve components of neuroplasticity.



Vitamin B2 Glowing Ebru

Applying knowledge from my glowing drinks post and combining it with my recent ebru post, I was able to create some beautiful pictures.  I made aqueous paint colors using mixtures of food coloring and a vitamin B2 solution.  The vitamin B2 gives the paint a glowing property when exposed to blacklight.  It is difficult to produce a wide array of colors using vitamin B2, since its endogenous color is yellow.  The yellow tends to bias the emitted wavelengths of other colors closer to the middle of the visible spectrum.  Regardless, I was able to produce various depths of green shades in addition to an orange color.

I mixed the vitamin B2 paints with skim and whole milk basins, which resulted in a difference of color retention.  Whole milk was able to retain the colors more prominently than the skim milk.  Additionally, when mixed vigorously, the colors homogenously dissipated into the milk – causing the color to disappear.  This is different from my previous experiments using acrylic paint as a medium.  The paint did not mix homogeneously with the milk.  I decided to combine the vitamin B2 colors with a pool of mixed acrylic paint.  I also decided to mix in some oil and soap to change the surface tension.

Overall, I consider this method of ebru less beautiful than my original experiments with paint.  However, this method is less toxic to the environment.  As usual, I have provided a video of my testing process below:

1. Vitamin B2 aqueous color mixtures homogeneously disappear into milk when disturbed.

2. Whole milk retains vitamin B2 colors better than skim milk.

3. Oil and soap have the same effects on surface tension regardless of the colors being aqueous vitamin B2 or acrylic paints.


Neon Ebru with Oil


Since my previous work with neon paint ebru on milk with soap was so cool, I decided to take the concept further.  Using some of the knowledge I gained from before, I decided to move ahead using canola oil as an additional medium.

Oil and aqueous solutions do not mix homogeneously without great effort.  Oil is primarily fatty acids which form micelles spontaneously.  Almost every cellular membrane is composed primarily of fatty acids.  This allows the cell to keep bad chemicals outside the membrane and therefore protect the sensitive systems on the inside. It is because of this fact that cellular life as we know it came about in the first place.   I figured this phenomenon would produce some interesting pictures/video if added to my previous ebru conditions.


I prepared paint mixtures that had a 3:1, Paint:Water ratio and a basin of skim milk.  Then, I added a few drops of each paint color to a separate basin of canola oil.  When the paint drops touch the oil, they form into globes of color that will stay in place unless physically disturbed.  Using a skewer, I vigorously swirled at the globe to try and break it apart.  The original globe broke into smaller globes.

I poured the paint/oil mixture into the milk basin, which formed a completely separate layer on top of the milk.  Some of the oil created membranes the milk, forming globes of milk.  Additionally, some of the paint droplets dispersed into the milk, yielding more dynamic color dispersion reminiscent of my original ebru testing.


Using a 1:3, Soap:Water ratio, I coated a skewer and dabbed the basin in different spots.  Dabbing a globe containing milk and paint caused a familiar dispersion effect.  Dabbing a spot with oil caused the surrounding globes to slowly disperse.  The soap does not cause the globes of color to collapse.  Finally, I swirled the entire basin around, forming globes containing mixtures of all the different liquids.


And of course, the best part is watching it all happen dynamically in real time.  Watch the video below to see the true beauty of this experiment:


1.) Oil forms a segregated layer on top of milk (an aqueous solution).

2.) 3:1, Paint:Water droplets form globes of color when introduced to oil.

3.) The color globes break apart into smaller globes when agitated.

4.) A 1:3, Soap:Water solution disperses color intensely when dabbed into micelles containing paint and milk.

5.) A 1:3, Soap:Water solution slowly disperses surrounding globes of color when dabbed into oil.  The cohesion of the globes is unaffected.

Filmed and photographed by C.


Neon Ebru Milkfat Testing


In my first neon paint ebru test, I used fat free milk for all my experimental conditions.  As a follow-up experiment, I wanted to see if milk with different fat content made a difference in paint behavior.  I made up some 3:1, Paint:Water mixtures to drop into the various milk basins.


In the picture above to the right of the black light. you can see 4 basins of milk.  From bottom to top the basins contain fat free milk, 1% milk, 2% milk and whole milk.  I added multiple droplets of paint to each basin.


Fat free milk above.


1% milk above.


2% milk above.


Whole milk above.

At first glance there appears to be no significant difference between the milk basins.  The paint seems to exhibit similar behavior regardless of the milkfat content.  I coated a skewer with a 1:3, Soap:Water ratio and dabbed each of the basins to see if that produced any varying effects.


Fat free milk above.


1% milk above.


2% milk above.


Whole milk above.

The most noticeable difference occurred in the whole milk basin.  It is unclear if there was a distinct difference between the soap dispersion intensity since it is hard to control the volume of soap used in each dab with the skewer.  However, there was a difference in the amount of fragmentation in the paint after treating it with soap.  In particular, the pink paint (shows up orange in photos) fragments into little particles in the whole milk basin.  This effect is less pronounced as a function of milkfat.  Less milkfat means less paint fragmentation.  Next I swirled each mixture around.


Fat free milk above.


1% milk above.


2% milk above.


Whole milk above.  Paint fragmentation is very obvious here.

The basins also looked kind of cool under normal light.  You can see those pictures below:


Fat free milk above.


1% milk above.


2% milk above.


Whole milk above.

Below you can see pictures of all 4 conditions simultaneously as this experiment progressed:


Feel free to judge any minute differences for yourself by watching the experiment in action.  I uploaded a video online that you can watch below as well:


1.)  Milkfat content does not seem to effect paint behavior under these ebru conditions.

2.)  There is a notable difference with paint fragmentation patterns after being treated with soap in a whole milk basin.

Filming and photography by C.



Neon Paint Ebru Art on Milk with Soap


Ebru art is a very old method of paper marbling that originated in ancient China.  It was later adapted by Turkish artists, and given the name “ebru”.  Upon searching for various art techniques, I found some great videos online of people using ebru to make beautiful patterns.

Additionally, I found videos of people using milk, soap and food coloring to yield more exciting footage.  I was interested if it was possible to merge the two methodologies from the videos and create something beautiful myself.  So naturally, I designed some experiments to learn more about the properties of paint in milk while treating it with soap.  First, I made 3 dilutions of paint in water and dripped them onto a small basin of skim milk.


Dilutions in the photo above from left to right are:
-1:3, Paint:Water ratio (1 part paint, 3 parts water)
-1:1, Paint:Water ratio (equal parts paint and water)
-3:1, Paint:Water ratio (3 parts paint, 1 part water)

I thought the 1:1 and 3:1 mixtures looked cooler than the 1:3 mixture.  I decided to move ahead with my soap experiments using basins with the 1:1 mixture.

Next, I wanted to test how dabbing different dilutions of Soap:Water mixtures onto the paint would disperse the design.  I made mixtures like above, substituting paint for soap.  I then coated the end of a skewer with each soap dilution and saw dramatically different dispersion intensities of the paint.  You can see a video of this experiment below:

I decided that a 1:3 Soap:Water ratio was best for dabbing on the paint.  Any higher amount of soap caused too intense of a dispersion pattern.  With this knowledge, I decided to dab each of my paint dilutions from earlier (also in the video).  The pictures below show the results:

Ultimately, I decided to use a 3:1 Paint:Water mixture and dab with a 1:3 Soap:Water mixture in my final ebru painting.  I made my ideal mixtures with multiple paint colors and set up my work space with a large basin full of skim milk.


Dripping all the different colors onto the milk basin together looked really cool.  Things expand and push each other out of the way almost like the paint is alive.  Since it’s all fluorescent in the black light, the colors are intensely vibrant.


Once you dab in the soap, the colors disperse and make little pockets absence of color, adding contrast and pushing surrounding colors aside.


I tried running the skewer through the paint to drag the colors in one direction.  It sort of pinches the colors together and swirls depending on how aggressive you are.  The colors swirling together is probably one of the most satisfying things to observe about this whole process.  But once they are done swirling, the paint ends up being a dense mess of color.  Still beautiful, but in a very different way.


When you zoom in closer with the camera, you can get a bunch of detail about each of the patterns.  Below are some of the best close-ups:

20170207_221033 img_6981 img_6991 img_6992

It even looks kind of cool under normal light too.  Maybe it looks a little bit like puke.  But very colorful puke.


But the true work of art is watching it all happen in real time.  That’s why I made this video below:

So why does this work?  Milk is an emulsion of protein and fat.  The paint floats on the surface because it is less dense than milk.  Soap contains surfactants, which change the surface tension of liquids.  Once the soap touches the surface of the liquid, it disrupts the cohesion of fat and protein molecules, resulting in the paint dispersion effect.

It would be interesting to try further experiments regarding the fat content in solution.  Maybe using milk with higher fat content or treating the paint with oil (which is basically all fat molecules).


1.) It is possible to make ebru art using acrylic paint as a medium, and skim milk as a canvas.

2.) A 3:1 Paint:Water mixture is ideal for making soap dispersion patterns.

3.) A 1:3 Soap:Water mixture is ideal to prevent rapid surface tension collapse when introduced to the paint.

4.) Swirling the paint can produce beautiful designs, but eventually results in an aggregate of color particles.

Filmed and photographed by C.


Voting with Your Money While Getting Rich


You actually have more power than you think.  Every time you buy something, you are using that power.  We are effectively casting a vote to support companies by buying the products they sell.  Each dollar we give a company encourages them to manufacture more products or improve existing products.  Depending on how you spend your dollars, this is both good and bad.

It is good that we have the freedom to spend our money on things that potentially improve our quality of life.  You could be helping to sustain products that keep humanity alive.  Or you could be contributing to the invention of products that will help improve us as a species.

But, you also have the freedom to spend money on things that only serve to destroy our planet.  Frivolous, unnecessary and superficial things just end up contributing to waste and climate change.  If your dollars are not adding utility to the survival and progression of the human race, then you should reassess your purchases and values.

Unfortunately, our decision-making is biased. Companies are very good at manipulating us to spend our dollars unwisely.  It is in their best interest to get as much of our money as possible.  That way, they can produce the products we want and use the extra profits for their own agendas.  Ultimately, a portion of the money we spend to buy the products we love will be used to fund the unknown affairs of the manufacturers.

Below is a simple flow-chart of how most companies in America operate.


Companies scale their manufacturing processes up or down depending on how much people buy their products.  If people buy more products, the company increases manufacturing and also increases the damage done to the environment.  If people buy less products, the company decreases manufacturing and also decreases the damage done to the environment.

Normally, we like to know about our presidential candidates well before we vote for them in a election.  So why don’t we care to know the companies well before spending our dollars?  Most of us work more than a third of our lives away just to get these dollars.  Isn’t it worth spending every dollar wisely?

Apparently not.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people spend more than 20% of their income on luxury expenses.  Below are three different pie graphs that represent how an average American family spends their money by category.  The first graph represents spending according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


The second graph is a color-coded representation of this graph.  Red represents expenses that are absolutely necessary to survive.  Green represents expenses that might be necessary to survival in the majority of American households.  Blue represents expenses that are luxury items not necessary to survival. The third graph is a consolidation of these categories.

Let’s do a little bit of math regarding the numbers presented from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  They claim the average household unit annual income is $69,629 per year before taxes.  Once you take out Federal taxes based on the 2015 tax brackets, this number gets a lot smaller.  If you subtract an additional 6.2% for Social Security tax, 1.45% for Medicare tax and 6% for state taxes (rough average state tax rates), then you end up losing almost a third of your income right off the bat.  For people married filing jointly you end up with $50,603 in profit.  If you are filing single then you end up with $46,924.

I have put together some tables to represent the dollar values and percent of income spent for each category.  This way, you can easily see how much of your hard-earned money goes to frivolous things.


With these spending habits, the average American household is actually losing money each year.  This might explain why so many people are in debt.  The average American household in 2016 had a $16,061 in credit card debt and/or, $49,042 in student,  $28,535 in auto and $172,806 in mortgage debts.

Take a good look at the blue sections first.  If you could just cut each blue category in half, then you would save $6,000 per year. Follow the tips below and make this a reality.

Take out

Do you spend $3,008 dollars on take-out in a year?  That equates to $57 in take-out every week.  The easiest way to cut that number in half is to spend $57 every other week, order smaller portions or buy cheaper dishes instead.

Maybe your take-out cost includes a coffee every morning from your favorite brewing chain.  Just start making your own coffee at home before you leave.  You will also save time and gas waiting in the drive-through and using all those wasteful paper cups.  Or better yet, drink free coffee your work provides.  Otherwise, you’ll be paying over $1000 per year and generating 365 wasted cups just for your morning fix.

What about your lunch break?  Do you always get take-out for lunch?  Then this probably costs you somewhere between $6-$15 every work day.  If you work 5 days a week, then you are paying between $1500-$3000 per year.  Take the time to pack your lunch each morning.  You can easily make a substantial meal at home for $2-$5 a day.  That will save you $500-$2000 per year.  It’s a trade-off of your time spent making lunch in the morning vs. working more years of your life to make up the cost.


Entertainment includes a lot of different things and costs an average of $2,842 per year.  Apparently, it includes watching a lot of television. According to this chart,  Americans spend more than half their leisure time watching TV.  Cable bills cost $99 per month on average,which equates to $1188 per year.  That’s almost half of the entire entertainment cost per year.  Cable channels also force you to watch ads and offer a ton of television content you probably don’t care about. This leaves you more vulnerable to cognitive bias influences.

Chances are, you probably have internet connection in addition to a cable subscription.  Why not just get rid of the cable altogether and stream your favorite content online for free?  This WikiHow guide teaches you how to watch shows and movies online for free or cheaper than cable.  Most TVs nowadays should have hookups to HDMI or VGA inputs, which can be used to display your computer screen onto the TV.


The Misc. section could mean anything,  but for some people, it is probably alcohol and/or tobacco.  I already made a guide on how to understand drug mechanics, which can be used to help you reduce the amount of alcohol and cigarettes you need to feel good.  If alcohol is your drug of choice, stop buying expensive whiskeys and craft beers.  Buy in bulk instead.  A handle of vodka will last you a lot longer and be more fun that a 6-pack of beer at the same price.  With cigarettes, switch to lozenges or gum.  Ingesting nicotine orally instead of smoking will make it easier to lower your active dose threshold.  You also will avoid inhaling over 5000 potentially carcinogenic additives cut into cigarettes by tobacco companies.

According to the American Society Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, at least 37% of households in America own pets.  It’s a good bet some of you spend a bunch of your “Misc.” money on pet food, toys and clothes.  Pets don’t need fancy food unless they have strict dietary requirements. Nor do they care about fashion.  It’s also very easy to improvise toys out of regular household objects.  Buy pet food in bulk and just stop wasting money on pet toys and clothes altogether.

Pets also cost a ton in unsubsidized veterinary bills.  A lot of people end up killing their pets because they can’t afford to pay for the medical procedures.  Instead of buying a new pet when your current one dies, just save yourself thousands of dollars and live without an animal in your house.  You won’t have to clean up their messes, they won’t damage your belongings,  you won’t have to pay to train them and you don’t have to worry about them while you’re away on vacation.

How about cosmetics and spa treatments?  Most cosmetic products used at home or by spas have dangerous chemicals or chemicals with unknown side effects.  A chemical can still be considered unsafe even if there is not a warning label on the product.  The FDA allows chemicals into public hands without fully understanding the repercussions.  Don’t go wasting extra money on hazardous chemicals to rub all over your body or you might actually be making your beauty problems worse in the long run.

Maybe your Misc. section includes gifts to friends or family.  I already did a post describing ways to avoid the pressures of gift giving.

Home Furnishings

Just don’t buy useless decorative items for your house.  The decoration police aren’t gonna bust down your door asking where you put the bowl of plastic fruit.  It isn’t a federal requirement to match the color of your room with every piece of furniture.  If your bathroom is clean and your trash doesn’t smell, most guests won’t even notice how many little trinkets are littered along your mantle.

With regard to kitchen appliances:  you don’t need to spend anywhere close to $1000 to get most appliances.  You can substitute any appliance with a basic set of kitchen utensils and a little dexterity, unless you are a professional cook who needs specific tools.  There are a million different free YouTube channels out there with easy and creative things to cook.


This is the easiest one.  Charity is optional to begin with, so just give less or not at all.  You can either choose to give to charity, or save yourself another $1,819.  Or throw that charity money into a savings account or stock investment instead, then use the earnings to donate later if you really want to make a big difference.

That’s it for the blue section.  Let’s look at an updated table to see how cutting half of your luxury spending solves your annual debt problem.


Cutting your luxuries in half certainly helps a lot.  If you are married filing jointly, you can finally start to dig yourself out of that hole of debt.  But wouldn’t you rather be doing better than “just scraping by?”  If you’re single, you’re still in debt and have to get a little more creative with your spending habits.

Let’s now consider how you can cut down expenses in the green section.  These solutions will often require some extra planning and forethought.  Before I dive into each individual category, it’s important to understand how loans work.

How Loans Function

Most loans work like this:  you need to borrow some amount of money (let’s say $40,000) from a bank.  This is called the “principle” balance.  The bank gives you a time frame (let’s say 10 years) in which you have to pay back all of the principle balance in addition to interest.  Interest is a percentage of of the principle balance, which accumulates over time depending on the rate you pay back the loan.  The rate at which interest accumulates depends on how often the interest compounds.  Once the interest compounds, the debt you have to pay back increases.  The bank then calculates how much money you have to pay per month to fit exactly into the time frame and factors in the interest rate with the projected number of compounding events.  Then they bill you for the amount they calculated for each month.

If you pay off the loan faster than the bank anticipates, then you will reduce the amount of interest compounded in the future.  Paying extra money up front can save you thousands in interest payments down the line.  The diagram below easily describes this process.  The top timeline depicts a payment plan following the bank’s anticipated 10 year pay-off.  The second timeline depicts a scenario where you pay off the loan in 8 years.  The third timeline depicts a scenario where you pay off the loan in 5 years:


Notice that the “Total Payment” and “Interest Paid” values decrease significantly from the top timeline to the third timeline.  If you pay off your loan in 5 years instead of 10, then you could save yourself $4,340 in interest or $868 per year (distributed evenly).  Okay, now you are informed enough to understand strategies to cut expenses in the green section of our tables above.

Life Insurance & Pensions

Honestly, this is one category you actually want to spend more money on.  If you should put your extra savings anywhere, it should be into this category.

Pensions include retirement funds like 401k or IRA.  These are the accounts that will let you quit working earlier at the lowest price.  Still, you can save thousands of dollars if you start paying into your retirement account early.  Putting money in your retirement earlier can have a huge positive impact on your savings later in life.  Money put into your retirement grows over time.  The more time that money has to grow, the less you have to contribute later on.  Paying for your retirement needs will likely cost much more than your mortgage or your student debt, so get started as soon as possible.  Check out my diagram below to understand how retirement growth works:


There are 3 different retirement scenarios in the diagram above.  In each case, the person is contributing $6,349 every year.  The green curve indicates a scenario where the person begins annual savings when they are 25 years old.  The blue curve indicates beginning at 35 years old.  The red curve indicated beginning at 50 years old.

Notice that there is a huge difference in the table section “Amount Compounded by Market” between each of the 3 scenarios.  The green person’s retirement is comprised primarily of money they earned from gains in the stock market.  They only had to contribute 28% of their own money to the total account value.  This way their retirement savings will last them until 81 years old if they retire at 62.

The blue and red scenarios are much worse off.  The blue person had to pay 45% of their own money into an account that will only last them until age 70.  The red person had to pay 90% of their own money that will only last them until age 63.  Neither the blue or red person has saved nearly enough money to last the rest of their lives.

In addition, the model presented in the diagram above is optimistic.  It is calculated expecting an average annual rate of return on investments of 7%.  The real life average annual rate of return is closer to 4%.  It may also not accurately account for inflation over the years.  If you really want to be confident in your retirement, you are going to want to either start saving a lot earlier, save a lot more money or both.  There are federal limits on how much you can contribute each year.  Make sure your plan includes these functional constraints.

Some employers offer what is called a “retirement match.”  This means your employer will match a portion of the amount of money you contribute to your retirement fund.  Find out if your company has a retirement match and try to take advantage of that as much as possible.  It is literally free money.

I found this retirement calculator very useful in figuring out how much money is needed to save for a viable retirement.  Don’t rely on social security either.  With people living until approximately 80 years old on average, the Baby Boomers are going to be the last generation with viable social security resources.  You NEED your retirement savings unless you plan on working until you’re dead.

If you’re young, start with an aggressive stock portfolio to grow your retirement savings quickly.  Once you start getting into your late 40s and 50s, gradually convert over to more conservative investments until you retire.  That way you can retain your money even if their is a large stock market failure.

Still confused? Check out this link to better understand more details on how exactly retirement accounts work.

Life insurance is different from retirement accounts/pensions, so don’t get confused.  Life insurance is there to protect your family from sudden financial burdens in the event of your death.  It is good to give just enough money to life insurance such that your family can pay to process your death and pay for bills long enough to gain financial independence after your loss.  Make a plan of how your family will take steps to recover, then decide what kind of life insurance expenses you should make.

Cars & Trucks

Get the smallest, safest car you can reasonably afford.  It’s disgusting how many big gas guzzling trucks and SUVs I see driving down the highway with only a single person in the car.  If your vehicle spends the majority of its time with empty seats or open storage space, then don’t waste your money.  Bigger cars mean more carbon emissions and higher gas expenditure.

In the vast majority of circumstances you are not going to need 6 or 8 cylinders of engine power.  There are no public roads in the USA that require you to accelerate from 0 MPH to 60 MPH in less than 10 seconds.  Only get a car with 8 or more cylinders if you are regularly going to be pulling cargo that weighs thousands of pounds.

Don’t pay for luxury models of cars or features that add no necessary utility to the car.  Who cares if you have silver trimming on your doors or a big spoiler on your trunk?  You’re more likely to look like an arrogant douche than a respected noble.  If you have extra money to spend on an expensive car model, make it an electric car.  At least then you don’t have to pay ridiculous gas costs.

We all need to pay for maintenance on our car.  Dramatically extend the life of your car by keeping up with the necessary maintenance in the appropriate time frame.  You can find a calendar for different part replacement time frames here.  Adding years to the life of your car can save you thousands on potentially buying a new one.

Regardless of what car you decide to buy, follow the loan advice section above if you plan on getting an auto loan.


If you don’t own a car, then you probably have to pay for commuter costs or regular taxis.  Consider paying for monthly passes for buses & trains instead of buying individual tickets.  Instead of taxis, look for competitive prices on a service like Uber or Zipcar.  Better yet, instead of paying for tickets to commute around the city, invest in a bicycle and the necessary safety equipment.  That way, you don’t have to pay for commuter costs and emit zero carbon.

People pay a lot in plane tickets to travel.  Book your flights well in advance and pick off-hour flight times.  Planes produce a ton of carbon emissions, so explore long distance train rides as a potential alternative.  The tickets might be significantly cheaper too.


I already pretty much covered this one in the cars & trucks section, however, to reiterate, buy a smaller car with less cylinders in the engine or just get an electric car.  If you have to get a car with a heavy-duty engine, then get the most fuel efficient one that meets your needs.  If you need a lot of engine power intermittently, consider renting a truck temporarily instead.  That way, you only have to pay a large gas expense for a short amount of time.

Plan out your routes before you drive.  If you have to visit multiple stops, then think of the most efficient way to visit them instead of backtracking multiple times.


This is one of the most ridiculous categories.  I honestly can’t believe that people are spending anywhere near $1,000 for clothes in a year, let alone $1,846.  If we didn’t need clothes to exist in society, this category would definitely move to the blue section.

Designer clothes are a trick.  It’s as simple as that.  The vast majority of our clothes are made from third world countries with unskilled and underpaid laborers.  Whether you are buying clothes from a discount store or a fancy designer, the clothes are probably made under similar working conditions.  What you are really paying for is the brand name, not the quality or utility of the item.

Why would you pay $100 on a shirt that you can get for $20 at a different store?  You are paying to be perceived in a certain way, but the joke is on you.  Most people don’t even care or notice what brand of clothes you are wearing, unless you specifically mention it to them.  Making a point to brag about your designer clothes just makes you look like a dickhead.  Even if you are wearing an item with the designer plastered across your chest, then you are just an unpaid advertiser for that company.  You are paying them money, so that they can make more money off your advertisement.  You are being used.

Consider reducing to a “capsule wardrobe.” You have a minimal set of items that are interchangeable for many different outfit scenarios.  I only have a little over a week’s worth of work clothes and that’s all I need to make over 40 different outfits.  Then, I only really need to replace undergarments regularly and i get the most time out of every other item.  This way, you can easily cut your clothing costs to $500 or less.


If you’re a millennial with a higher degree, chances are, your education expenses are significantly more than $1315 per year.  All the more reason to take this post seriously.  Follow the loan advice in the section above to intelligently pay off your student debt.

If you are planning to enter college in the future, consider applying to any scholarship programs available to you.  You can find a very helpful list of scholarships here. This can save you thousands of dollars in loan interest down the road.

You can also save a lot of money on books by getting them used whenever possible.  Sometimes, campus libraries offer textbooks for loan.  There might be limited copies available, so consider picking the library copy first, before someone else reserves it for the semester.  Also consider looking online for used or imported textbooks.  You might even be able to get instructor editions imported that include answers to more problems.  Team up with a classmate to share one copy of the book.  That way, you each effectively pay half price.

That’s it for the green section.  Granted, implementing some of these solutions will be harder than it was in the blue section.  Hopefully, over time, you can at least shave 10% off off each category, except pensions. But seriously,  you can definitely cut the clothing category in half because it’s basically a luxury.


Look at that!  If you’re married filing jointly, then you have a pretty significant profit each year.  That’s enough money to seriously beef up your retirement or save for your kid’s college.  If you’re filing single, you still have a little bit more to go unless you got really conservative on the blue and green sections.

Finally, we can move onto the red section.  Keep in mind that this section is the hardest to save money in because any change definitely can affect your quality of life.


The easiest way to save on housing is to live at home with your parents.  If your parents let you live at home with reduced rent or rent-free, then that saves you the majority of housing costs right away.

The next easiest way is to live with other people who contribute to housing costs.  Living with roommates or working spouses can cut down housing expenses dramatically.  The more people paying into the bills, the less each individual has to pay.

If you are trying to get a place of of your own, consider whether it is cheaper to rent or buy in your area.  In lots of metropolitan areas, it is definitely cheaper to rent a space than to buy one.  But for more rural places, you can sometimes find homes for dirt cheap.  Use this online rent vs. buy calculator to help you make a more informed decision.

If you end up renting, then you will likely have assistance with routine maintenance and will be able to move around more easily depending on the conditions of your lease.  But ultimately, the lessor owns the property, so you will not end up owning any of it in the long run.  Your lifestyle may also be limited by conditions set by the lessor, and you might be flanked by surrounding tenants.  Always be on the lookout for cheaper places, too.  Since you have the mobility, why not use it.

If you are going to buy a home, then you will have to pay for the maintenance, repairs and utilities all by yourself.  However, after paying off your mortgage, you will legally own the property and can sell it off/modify it in whatever way is allowed by your local government.  Additionally, you will be much more secluded than when living in an apartment complex.

If you are going to buy a condominium, consider that there might be additional condo fees associated with your purchase.  You will end up owning the condo outright after paying off the mortgage. But because you will be living in a facility with other people, you will need to contribute additional funds for upkeep.  Keep in mind, when you purchase a house or condo, there will be additional fees upon purchase, such as the closing costs, home inspection and realtor payment.

Regardless of whether you buy a house, land or a condo, you should follow the advice in the “How Loans Function” section above.  Then, you can save thousands on your mortgage.

Health Care

This is potentially the most complicated category.  There are a multitude of health plans available; each with their own limitations and guidelines.  There is also not a “one size fits all” type of plan out there because we all have unique health needs and cannot predict emergencies. Usually, employer plans offer both an HMO plan and a PPO plan.  HMO plans are often cheaper, but have restrictions on what doctors you can choose for care.  The insurance company has a number of specialists that it prefers to use due to cheaper labor or special contracts.

A PPO plan is usually slightly more expensive.  It generally offers you more choice in which doctors you choose, but also has associated “out-of-network” costs.  This might be a better plan for people who have a preference to their physician or a specialist they rely on specifically.

Some employers offer FSA (flexible spending accounts), which are essentially tax free or tax subsidized accounts to hold your money for healthcare costs.  These accounts are good, especially for people who have predictable routine health costs like prescriptions or physical therapy sessions.  The problem with these accounts is that they are “use it or lose it” from year to year.  If you put money into an FSA, but do not use it within that year, then you lose all the remaining money in the account.

The best recommendation I can give is to examine multiple options closely.  Even if your employer offers you a health insurance plan, you do not have to choose it.  Not all employers pick plans competitively.  They might pick a plan that is more expensive to you for no reason or makes you pay for services that you will never use.  If you find a cheaper or more reliable plan, then opt out of your employers health insurance and just start paying for your own plan.  That way, even if you lose employment at your job, you will still have health insurance available.


There are a ton of good ways to save money on groceries.  The easiest being to buy in bulk.  If you anticipate using a lot of a specific item over time, then just buy more of it up front.  That way, you can spend less money per item, and avoid potential future inflationary costs.

Shop at wholesale clubs.  BJ’s, Costco and Sam’s Club are the most common wholesale retailers in America.  All of these places offer groceries and other items in bulk and usually for cheaper than conventional stores.  You usually do have to pay an annual membership fee to shop at wholesale clubs, but they often pay for themselves quickly if you are a regular shopper.  Not to mention, wholesale clubs offer additional coupon deals that can’t be found elsewhere.  That brings me to my next point.

Use coupons.  Most grocery stores offer coupons for products they are trying to sell off quickly.  If you meet the coupon criteria and will legitimately use the product, then why not get it for cheaper?  Just be careful about buying something you don’t need just because there is a coupon.  Marketers sometimes distribute coupons that are poor deals just to motivate shoppers to buy.

Make a list before you go and don’t shop hungry.  If you go to the grocery store without sticking to a strict list, then you are very likely to buy items you don’t need.  Companies have spent a lot of time and money researching how to bias your mind into buying a product with colorful and familiar packaging.  Even if you do crave unnecessary items, just check if it’s on the list first.  If it’s not on the list, then just move on.

Plan your meals in advance.  If you know exactly what reagents you are going to need for your future meals, then you can more efficiently devise a grocery list.  This will also help you prevent producing more food waste, which can cause more carbon emissions in landfills.


You can save on most utilities by simply using less of the base resource.  To save money on heating costs, turn down your thermostat in the winter and turn it up in the summer.  You can also get a “smart thermostat” system which automatically learns the routine travel patterns of people in your house and adjusts temperature in various rooms of the house appropriately.  Smart thermostats are the most efficient way to ensure you are not heating a room unnecessarily.

To save money on electricity, then use less electronics.  Unfortunately, you can’t just do this by turning off your electronics when they aren’t in use.  Turning off the device helps, but a lot of devices still draw some electricity in a standby mode as long as they are still plugged in.  You can save the maximum amount of electricity by unplugging devices completely when they are not in use.

The next best way is to plug your devices into a surge protector, then turn off power to the surge protector when you are not using anything.  This way, only the surge protector draws any standby power.

Or you could buy a “smart surge protector” which automatically detects whether a device has been turned off.  Once the smart surge protector detects a turn off, it disconnects that particular outlet from the grid.

To save money on water, consider reducing how much you use for various tasks.  Taking a shorter shower can save gallons within a single session.

There are a number of devices out there to reduce laundry washer water waste, like this one.  You can also just hang up your clothes to dry to save electricity.  This will also increase the lifetime of each garment.

If you absolutely have to use a large appliance, then buy a high-efficiency one.  High-efficiency household appliances are designed to minimize resource usage while still getting the job done.

If your state allows, collect rain water to use on non-potable projects.  You can use collected rainwater safely for grass, yards and gardens.  I’m sure you can find plenty of plastic containers lying around to improve your rainwater collection.  Increase the surface area of collection containers or funnels to maximize your capabilities.

A longer term investment is solar panels.  Solar panels can help you reduce electricity costs in a big way.  They cost a lot up front, but if you are planning to live in your home for 10 years or more, it’s definitely worth the investment.  Imagine being able to cut out your electricity bill almost entirely while saving the world thousands of pounds of carbon emissions.  Many solar companies also have lease plans for solar panels that let you pay the panels off over time.  That way you don’t have to drop thousands of dollars at one time.

Finally, we have covered all the sections.  Since the red sections are necessities, let assume you can only shave 5% off each category.  Let’s leave out healthcare from that reduction, since a health plan change might not be right for everybody.


There you go.  Now you can hopefully get through a year without accumulating more debt even if you’re single. In my opinion, you can do even better than this.

My final table below indicates areas where I think significant earnings can be still be retained.  Imagine a life where you actually paid off your car and student loans.  You stop wasting money on junk you don’t need and adopt a more minimalist approach to life. It is definitely possible if you commit yourself to strengthening self-discipline.  Take it one step at a time and enact routines.  Once saving money becomes a regular activity, you can actually have fun and feel good about spending less.

I have assembled one more “stretch table” to show such an ideal scenario.  Anywhere marked in blue is a stretch goal to get serious control of your finances.  All blue categories have been reduced except for the pensions category, which has been increased to meet a more viable retirement need.


That looks pretty good to me.  Imagine having your retirement under control and saving thousands of dollars each year.  Really take a hard look at the money you spend and the activities you do.  Are these things worth the constant stress of debt and poverty?

Of course, there are a lot people out there who do not make anywhere close to the average $69,629 pre-tax income reported in this post.  Those people are going to have to dig really deep to get any type of savings in a year.  I encourage you to do better than this stretch table.  Even if you can’t get rid of debt altogether, you can decrease the rate of your inevitable decay.  That will give you more time to construct longer term contingency plans.

It’s no mystery that the American economic system is broken and it’s painful to know that most people do not get a fair chance to live debt-free.  Use the power you’ve got and make the changes in your life that you can.  Even if you can’t change the system, no one can stop you from changing yourself.  Regardless of whether you are rich or poor, we all live on the same planet.  Making smart purchase choices will have long-term positive effects on the environment.  We all have the power to help the earth, even if we don’t have the power to help the American economy.

I have summarized a quick reference sheet for each section in the conclusions below:


How to save money quick references:


Take out:
-Cut take out frequency in half
-Buy smaller portions and cheaper dishes
-Make your own coffee or get it at work for free
-Make your own lunch

-Stop paying for cable television and movies (link)

-Use digested nicotine alternatives to cigarettes and titrate down your dose
-Switch to liquor and buy cheaper brands of alcohol in bulk
-Stop buying pet toys and clothes
-Buy pet food in bulk
-Don’t get another pet once your old one dies
-Stop using cosmetics due to their harmful chemical nature
-Avoid the pressures of gift-giving events and holidays (link)

Home Furnishings:
-Stop buying useless decoratives
-Learn better cooking techniques to save money on appliances

-Don’t give money to others because your conscience tells you to.  You need that money just as much as anybody.

Potential Necessities

Life Insurance & Pensions:
-Only spend enough on life insurance to buy enough time for your family to recover in the event of your death.
-Start paying into your retirement as early as possible
-Start young with high yield stocks, then gradually convert to safer investments as you age
-Use your employers contribution match, if possible
-Make a retirement plan using a retirement calculator and stick to it (link)

Cars & Trucks:
-Buy the smallest car you possibly can
-Don’t waste money on luxury car models or features with no necessary utility
-Keep up with your regular car maintenance to extend the life of your car (link)
-Pay off car loans faster than the bank schedule and save thousands of dollars in interest

-Buy monthly commuter passes instead of individual tickets
-Use competitive services like Uber instead of expensive taxis
-Consider riding a bike instead
-Book plane tickets far in advance and on off-hours/holidays
-Consider long distance trains instead of airplanes

-Get a car with less cylinders or get an electric car to save money on gas
-Research a car’s fuel efficiency rating before purchase
-Rent trucks when needed instead of buying a truck that isn’t used to capacity
-Drive shorter distances and plan your route ahead of time to avoid backtracking

-Don’t waste money on designer brand clothes
-Switch to a capsule wardrobe

-Pay off student loans faster than the bank schedule and save thousands of dollars in interest
-Apply to as many scholarships as possible if you plan to enter school
-Get books used, imported or from the library when possible
-Share a book with a classmate


-Pay off mortgage loans faster than the bank schedule and save thousands of dollars in interest
-Live with your parents
-Live with responsible roommates
-Research whether renting or buying is better in your area
-Constantly be on the lookout for cheaper apartments to rent

Health Care:
-Research various health plans to meet your need while reducing cost
-Understand the values of HMO vs. PPO plans
-Consider using an FSA
-Do not default to your employer plan if it is more expensive than your needs

-Buy in bulk
-Shop in wholesale clubs
-Use coupons
-Make a list before you shop and don’t shop hungry
-Plan your meals in advance

-Turn down your thermostat in the winter and up in the summer
-Invest in a smart thermostat system
-Use less electronics
-Unplug devices, use surge protectors or smart surge protectors
-Take shorter showers
-Wash dishes by hand
-Wash clothes by hand
-Let clothes air dry
-Invest in high efficiency appliances
-Collect rain water for non-potable purposes
-Invest in solar panels


Holidays, Climate Change and Cognitive Biases


Every year, millions of people in the United States celebrate Christmas.  The conventional Christmas includes being with family around a decorated pine tree exchanging a variety of gifts covered in wrapping paper.  In the United States culture, this holiday is generally regarded as a positive experience for the people celebrating.  They get to see distant relatives, and occupy their thoughts with unconventional purchases to meet the desires of their gift recipients.

This behavior is reinforced by almost every media outlet.  If you watch television, browse the internet or listen to the radio, you are repeatedly exposed to Christmas culture between October and January.  There are non-stop Christmas carols and ads for seasonal deals.  Almost every retail store exhibits an increase in customer visits.

Furthermore, Christmas spending is reinforced by families, friends and workplaces.  Families and friends exchange Christmas lists and wishes.  Workplaces have games and holiday parties.  Most companies also give extended time-off.  It seems extremely difficult to avoid the “Christmas Spirit.”

Unfortunately, very few people consider the long-term damage to our world because of Christmas.  According to Stanford University, Americans produce 25% more trash during the holiday season when compared to any other time of the year.  In terms of weight, this is an extra 25 million tons of garbage burdening waste centers.  It also burdens the bank accounts of any participants significantly.  This country already has a terrible debt problem without the holidays making it worse.  Check out the Stanford website for easy ways to save money and waste this season.

I feel it is necessary to outline some specific resource burdens caused by Christmas.  Manufacturing all the materials needed to celebrate the holidays puts excessive strain on our already fragile environment.  Below is an infographic describing specific resource demands and their negative effects on our world.  I have represented each demand with a unique pictograph for ease of understanding.


Using the resource demand infographic above, I constructed a second infographic below depicting the negative effects resulting from the use of particular holiday items.  I have included three common holiday items to outline my point.  The Christmas tree, wrapped presents and ornaments are items that can be found in most houses celebrating Christmas.


These items are only a fraction of those used to celebrate Christmas.  Some other potentially wasteful items are Christmas lights, lawn decorations, stockings, candles, candy canes and other extraneous seasonal decorations.

Another sad thing about all this waste is that it has consumed a holiday with previously altruistic meanings.  Before widespread holiday consumption, Christmas was a time specifically for supporting family, sharing experiences of togetherness, and helping the needy.  There was no need or expectation to spend the most money on the best gifts.

Upon absorbing all this information about wastefulness of holidays, I asked myself three questions:
1.Why did people start being so wasteful in the first place?
2.Why do people continue to be so wasteful & buy junk for the sake of holidays?
3.What can we to do fix it?

The answer lies in cognitive bias.  Humans do not think rationally most of the time.  The majority of people make decisions based on their opinions and the opinions of others around them.  This decision making is counterproductive because it often ignores the objective facts and does not include any analysis of real data.

After taking a look at Wikipedia’s list of cognitive biases, I divided them accordingly to answer the three questions above.  I will proceed to list the cognitive biases relevant to each question, and give a brief interpretive summary.

Why did people start being so wasteful in the first place?

During the industrial revolution, people in the United States were able to accumulate large amounts of wealth.  This allowed them to spend money frivolously on items they did not need to survive.  Spending money can be a symbol of social status.  Rich people would buy glamorous things to explicitly display their wealth, so that social power could be derived from it.  Buying things for the sake of showing-off is called “conspicuous consumption“.

Upon witnessing this consumption, observers are inclined to spend in a similar fashion, to fit in with the powerful wealthy class.  The rich seemed more of an authority because of their ability to buy whatever they wanted. In today’s world, they are able pay for media coverage and influence government officials.  People look toward celebrities, news anchors and government officials as authorities, even though they may be spreading incorrect or biased messages.  Believing someone because of their apparent  authoritative status is called “authority bias“.

Many people follow the media messages and spend money frivolously on things that may not improve their lives or the sustainability of the planet.  This mass adoption of spending mentality can be characterized as the “bandwagon effect.”  When messages are repeated regularly, people begin to believe that the messages are the truth. For instance, Christmas music can always be heard around the same time each year.  This is called the “illusory truth effect.

When you ask someone if they are influenced by the media, they might incorrectly believe that they are unaffected whilst others are vulnerable.  However, all humans are susceptible to influence by the media they consume to some extent.  This cognitive bias is called the “third-person effect.”  Or maybe they will claim to be objective whilst you are uninformed.  That is called “naive realism.”  Or maybe they will respond to you with what is socially acceptable at the time, as not to draw any negative attention.  This is called “social-desirability bias.

Unfortunately, when Black Friday and Christmas comes around, most people will fall victim to sales gimmicks.  Whether by the media, or by family pressure, most people in the United States will impulsively by useless items like stocking stuffers, secret Santa gifts or Yankee swap gifts.  Have you ever entered a store, vowing only to spend $10, and then come to the cashier with $100 worth of items?  This false belief that you can control impulsivity is called “restraint bias.


Why do people continue to be so wasteful & buy junk for the sake of holidays?

I frequently find myself trying to convince people not to waste money on holidays, but I’m almost always met with some type of resistance.  They will continue to produce waste even if they believe climate change needs to be stopped.  People falsely believe that their decision making capability is somehow superior to the facts.  This is called the “Dunning-Kruger effect” or also the “overconfidence effect.”  The truth is, even people who try to save money might incorrectly value the items they purchase.  Think twice about shopping at dollar stores for the holidays because the “denomination effect” might make you drain your bank account on really useless stuff.

Sometimes they justify their actions with unwarranted positivity or ignorance.  They act like a global disaster couldn’t ever happen in their lifetime and therefore do not prepare accordingly.  The “optimism bias” and “normalcy bias” describes this behavior.  Other times people will feel threatened by any mention of climate change resulting from their consumption.  They may revise their previous beliefs incorrectly or not at all as a result (see “reactance,”  “conservatism,”  “selective perception,” and  “Semmelweis reflex.” )

Cognitive biases get worse when large groups are involved in holding a similar belief system.  Therefore, if you have a group of climate deniers together, it is harder to convince them otherwise than a separate individual.  Group-think can cause people to discriminate and generalize against others while rationalizing their own agendas (see “in-group favoritism,”  “group attribution error,”  “escalation of commitment,” and  “shared information bias.“)  Ultimately, the individual suffers from being in the group.  They can become vulnerable to other cognitive biases such as “confirmation bias,”  “subjective validation,” the “mere-exposure effect,”  “belief bias,”  and “rosy retrospection.


What can we to do fix it?

The short answer is: stop celebrating the holidays altogether.  While you’re at it, just stop celebrating ALL holidays that require you to spend money on junk you don’t need or want.  You can save a significant amount of money each year.  Skipping the holidays might mean the difference between financial stability or not.  For those of you who dread seeing the family members you hate, this might be an easy choice.  Take the leap and cut hurtful people out of your holiday.

Unfortunately, not all of us are that bold. Instead, try to resist outside influence and cognitive biases.  Try to be aware of the way you make decisions and how you come to conclusions in a thought process.  Re-evaluate the things you need vs. the things you want.  Think twice when other people try to pressure you to conform, or make you feel guilty for being an individual.  Are they correct to judge you?  In most cases, you don’t have to back down just because someone is discriminatory.

Wikipedia offers a few pages to resist cognitive biases.  Hopefully some of these strategies can prove useful: cognitive bias mitigation, cognitive bias modification, and debiasing.

In case you don’t believe in climate change or want to learn more, please watch the documentary “Before the Flood” from the link below.  It gives a comprehensive overview of real climate problems humanity faces now and in the coming years:

I’d also like to present a theory of mine regarding CO2 emissions around the holidays.  China produces the majority of holiday gifts for America.  If you watch the 2006 NASA CO2 emissions video below, you will see a sudden increase of CO2 emissions coming from China starting in the month of October.  Although it is not discussed by the narrator in the video explicitly, I believe this sudden increase could be due to a rush in Christmas gift production.  Take a look and decide for yourself:


1.) The holiday season is the most wasteful time of year.

2.) Holiday waste accounts for a staggering amount of garbage production and resource depletion which contributes to climate change.  Would you choose Christmas over a future for your kids and the rest of the human race?

3.) Cognitive biases, group-think and human ignorance account for the initiation and continuation of wasteful holiday spending.

4.)  Downsizing and eliminating wasteful behaviors through careful behavioral conditioning is possible and may benefit your bank account and quality of life.


Visualizing Drug Mechanics: Reward Systems Part 4


This post discusses drug mechanics and their resulting effects on brain reward systems.  More specifically, I describe principles on how to efficiently, sustainably and safely consume substances of any type (excluding those that suffer first pass metabolism, but including sugar, caffeine, vitamins and pain medication), while using cannabis as my example. Other substances follow the same principles outlined below with different degradation rates.  I have constructed some graphs to outline these mechanics in an intuitive format.  If you want simple conclusions, there is a list at the bottom of the post.

Please keep in mind that these graphs are not based on real experimental data, but are meant to show relative differences in different substance consumption scenarios.  The graphs below do reflect semi-realistic models in pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics, based on my experiences studying Biochemistry and designing medical diagnostic assays.

Consuming chemicals of any type (food, drugs, alcohol) can produce temporary or long-term changes in how your body functions.  Not all routes of entry into your body produce the same response.  The three most common routes of entry are intravenous (IV) injection, inhalation and oral consumption.

The next eight graphs describe relative differences in the context of these routes of entry.  Take careful note of the X and Y axes in each graph, as they may drastically change your interpretation of the trends within:

Effective Dose Duration


Referring to the graph above:

Assume you consume the same size dose of a drug (cannabis, for example) using each route.  After taking the drug, it has an effect on you in which you feel a resulting “high” for some time.  How you take the drug can drastically effect the amount of time you feel high.  The amount of time you feel high is called the “effective dose duration.”

Key points:

-Taking a drug intravenously results in a short high because the drug is exposed immediately to your blood stream.  The drug readily pumps through your liver and kidneys, which results in fast clearance of the drug from your brain.

-Inhaling a drug lasts somewhat longer than IV because the drug must first be filtered through pores in the lungs before it reaches the blood stream.  This process is fairly quick, but can be inhibited by smoking contaminants  interfering with the drug.  Furthermore, tar build-up in the lungs over time, can result in less efficient processing of the drug due to pore blockage.

-Orally consuming a drug (like in a pill, candy, or pastry) can yield the longest high of all three routes of entry.  This is because the drug is slowly released over time when passing through the small intestine.  Metabolism requires the drug to be taken in through the intestines and then processed through the liver/kidneys before it enters the blood stream.

Time to Reach Maximum Dose


There is a cap (the maximum dose) to how much any dose of a drug can be effectively perceived.  You can never feel more than 100% of the active chemical in each dose.  The processing differences between each route of entry effect how long you must wait before feeling the most high after consuming a dose.

With regards to cannabis:

-IV results in an almost immediate maximum dose effect.

-Inhalation results in an effective peak high somewhere in the range of 6 minutes to 30 minutes, depending partially on how long it takes you to smoke the entire dose.  To reach the maximum dose by smoking, you must dose repeatedly.  This is due partially to processing in the lungs.  Also, a large portion of any dose is lost from burning the cannabis and thus causing heat energy dispersion of some plant matter.

-Oral consumption results in an effective peak high after around 2 hours.  2 hours is the normal amount of time it takes to digest a meal through the small intestine.  To reach maximum dose orally, you must have many repeated dosing events.  This is because only a portion of the active drug is processed during metabolism.  The rest processes through the large intestine as waste.

Withdrawal Period Duration


After your organs have processed the drug to below the effective dose, it takes time for your body to come back to its homeostatic equilibrium.  The drug is still in your body for some time, but not enough that you feel high. The length of time between the end of the high, and the return to equilibrium is what I call the “withdrawal period duration.”  This withdrawal period is when negative symptoms can arise from the lack of drug in your brain.

The “withdrawal period duration” is inversely proportional to “the time to reach maximum dose.”  Less time to reach maximum dose means a longer withdrawal period.  Since you feel the maximum dose fastest with IV injection, you therefore have the longest withdrawal period.  The same trend applies to both inhalation and oral consumption as well, but with significantly shorter withdrawal periods.

Relative Drug Concentration Curves Over Time


The graph above represents curves showing how the concentration of a drug increases in your brain over time after consumption.  Assume consumption happens at the origin (time = 0).

Key points:

-The ΔIV, ΔInhale, and ΔOral bars at the top of the graph represent the “effective dose duration” from the first graph in this post.

-The time it takes to reach the peak of each curve represents the “time to reach maximum dose” from the second graph in this post.

-The black dotted line marked “Effective Dose” is the concentration threshold for feeling high.  Above that line you feel high.  Below that line you do not feel high.

-The time it takes from the origin (time = 0) point of each curve, to when the curve reaches the black dotted line, is the time it takes to start feeling high.

-The time it takes from when the curve to fall back below the black dotted line, to the bottom of the x-axis, is the “withdrawal period duration” from the third graph in this post.

-ΔW indicates the concentration difference to overcome before withdrawal ceases.  This can also be considered the “withdrawal severity”.

Notice that the curve peaks do not reach the same maximum concentration in the brain.  This is due to inherent differences between the “bioavailability” of the drug relative to the route of entry. Bioavailability is the proportion of a drug that can enter the blood stream when introduced into the body and thus is able to have an active effect.

IV represents the true “maximum dose” amount because injection yields nearly 100% bioavailability.  Inhalation yields about 75% biovailability.  Oral consumption yields about 35% bioavailability.

Consequences of Repeated Dosing via Intravenous Injection


The graph immediately above represents repeatedly taking the same dose of a drug intravenously at regular intervals eight times.

Key points:

-The ΔIV Max bar represents the time it takes to effectively reach 100% bioavailability.

-E1 through E6 represent how the effective dose threshold changes as a drug tolerance builds up over repeated use.  Using a drug repeatedly causes a desensitization of the active effect (feeling high).  Each subsequent dose raises the effective dose threshold.  This results in a shorter “effective dose duration,” a longer “withdrawal period duration” and a higher withdrawal severity (ΔW).  So, after just a few doses, you will actually spend more time experiencing withdrawal, than feeling high.

-The overlapping shading under each curve represents the accumulation of  drug concentration.  Every shade gradation (2X,3X etc.) represents approximately double, triple etc. of measurable drug amounts.

With regard to cannabis:
This means that if you were to take an analytical drug test during this time period, the THC (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol) would be much higher than if you only took a single dose.  Having one dose allows your body to completely clear THC from your body within 3 to 4 days (only if your body is starting at homeostatic equilibrium).  Whereas using cannabis for 8 repeated instances like in the graph above would cause full THC clearance to take approximately 24 days.

Consequences of Repeated Dosing via Inhalation


The graph immediately above represents repeatedly smoking the same dose of a drug at regular intervals eight times.  The legend texts have the same meaning as the intravenous graph just above.

Key point:

Notice that it takes many more dose repetitions to reach the maximum dose threshold by inhalation than when compared to intravenous injection.  Also notice that the withdrawal severity (ΔW) is lower than IV.  The effective dose cap (E7) is also at a lower concentration.

With regard to cannabis:
Smoking the same dose (same batch of plant) repeatedly can cause less severe withdrawal symptoms than IV injection.  However, if your goal is to get as high as possible in the shortest amount of time, injection is much faster (not recommended due to life-threatening effects).

Consequences of Repeated Dosing via Oral Consumption


The graph immediately above represents repeatedly consuming the same dose of a drug orally at regular intervals eight times.  The legend texts have the same meaning as the intravenous graph just above.

Key point:

Notice that it takes very many more dose repetitions to reach the maximum dose threshold than when compared to intravenous injection or inhalation.  In fact, so many repetitions that the 8 repeated doses in this graph do not reach the maximum dose threshold.  Also notice that the withdrawal severity (ΔW) is the lowest of IV or inhalation.  The effective dose cap (E7) is also at the lowest concentration.

With regard to cannabis:
Eating the same dose (same weight of the same batch of plant) repeatedly causes the least severe withdrawal symptoms of all the routes of entry discussed in this post.  Oral consumption will potentially be the least intense high when comparing a fixed dose between each route of entry.

Curves of Effective Dose Threshold Change Over Time


Imagine if you drew a line to connect each of the effective dose thresholds (E1, E2, etc.) over time.  The slope of that line would vary greatly between each route of entry.  The graph above depicts those trends.  The “effective dose duration” is a function of the change in effective dose thresholds over time.

With regard to cannabis:
If you want to stay high for as long as possible, then you want to consume orally.  This will reduce the slope of the effective dose duration line as compared to IV or smoking.  Once the concentration of drug in your body reaches its maximum possible dose, you no longer feel high at the same intensity, or for the same amount of time.  This means that IV injection and smoking are very inefficient at sustaining a high because they reach the maximum possible dose quickly.

Additionally, this makes oral consumption the most cost efficient way of consuming the drug.  You will spend less money, get more time feeling high and less time feeling withdrawal.

Dopamine Response to Repeated Use


We know from parts 2 and 3 that dopamine is a key component to many reward activities.  Some drugs or activities produce downstream dopamine signalling events.  The dopamine signalling is ultimately responsible for feeling good while on the drug, but also for motivating you to obtain and use the drug.

Dopamine signalling can be altered significantly after repeated use of a drug.  The graph above depicts two types of dopamine signalling changes that can occur in repeated drug use events.

Key points:

-The black dotted line at the bottom of the graph marked “Baseline” indicates your endogenous dopamine levels at homeostatic equilibrium.

-Upon your initial consumption of a drug, you experience an intense dopamine spike.  This initial spike is depicted by the red curve above labelled “Baseline Intensity.”

-When you use a drug repeatedly, the dopamine response diminishes due to a built up tolerance of the drug.  This effectively lowers the dopamine intensity peak.  The blue curve labelled “Tolerance Intensity” depicts this diminished dopamine response.

-Under chronic repeated use of a drug, you can actually permanently alter your baseline threshold.  This means every subsequent consumption event will no longer produce an intense dopamine spike.  Instead, you will only ever experience diminished spikes.  The black curve starts at the “Baseline” level and ends at the “Chronic Adaptation” level.  The chronic adaptation level indicates a higher baseline than when drug use was initially started.

-The green curve indicates repeated use after chronic adaptation.  The dopamine response intensity is extremely diminished when compared to the initial baseline intensity in the red curve.

Ultimately, these dopamine response changes could remain permanent and might result in long-term depression.  This might contribute to why many past drug addicts suffer from depression even after they have kicked their addiction.  In a more extreme case, permanent dopamine signalling changes could predispose someone to getting Parkinson’s disease later in life.

Dopamine Signalling in Drug-Seeking Behavior


In part 2, I referenced a paper that determined dopamine signalling can occur from environmental cues and just before ingestion of drugs.  The above graph depicts dopamine responses during a hypothetical drug-seeking and ingesting event.

Imagine you just come home from a long day of work and you just want to relax as fast as possible.  You go to your stash and get out your paraphernalia of choice.  At this moment, you experience a dopamine rush in anticipation of ingesting the drug.  As you start preparing the drug for use, the anticipation builds slowly alongside your dopamine response.

Finally, you ingest the drug.  You either plunge the needle, light up the pipe or swallow the brownie.  You immediately feel relief from dopamine, even though you don’t feel the effects of the drug just yet.

A short time later, the drug effects initiate and you feel a tremendous dopamine signal plus all the other specific effects of the drug.  If it’s cannabis, you feel high: your muscles relax, you feel spaced out and maybe get hungry for some extra food.  Does this scenario sound familiar?

It should seem familiar; even if you don’t use drugs.  Just replace your stash with the refrigerator.  Exchange the pipe, for a pint of ice cream, a soda, or maybe a bottle of bourbon.  Scoop out a bowl or pour yourself a glass.  Taste that first bite or sip, and the dopamine explodes.  This is how our brains react for almost all rewards.

We all know the downstream effects of fat and sugar.  Most of us know them for alcohol.  However, we don’t know the downstream effects of many of the other additives in food or the resulting hydrocarbons produced from smoking.  Some of these chemicals can have toxic/lethal effects when accumulated over time or at high levels.

There is a method scientists use to measure the toxicity and lethality of a given chemical.  They obtain a population of some organism (usually rats and mice, but can also be humans) and treat individuals with increasing doses of the chemical in question.  They record the observed effects at each level and measure various metabolic characteristics that might indicate toxicity.  The graph below summarizes this method:


The graph above shows three different curves representing the distribution of individuals in the tested population that exhibit specific characteristics.  As the dose increases, curves indicate changes from observed therapeutic changes, to dangerous changes and finally death.

Key points:

-The blue curve represents the doses in which individuals commonly exhibit signs of non-harmful/therapeutic changes resulting from the applied chemical.  The ED50 is the dose where 50% of the tested population shows signs of non-harmful changes in behavior or metabolic markers.

-The green curve represents the doses in which individuals commonly exhibit signs of toxic changes resulting from the applied chemical.  These toxic effects may not be immediately life threatening, but can potentially cause permanent damage.  The LD50 is the dose where 50% of the tested population shows signs of toxicity.

-The red curve represents the doses in which individuals commonly die as a result of the applied chemical.  The LD50 is the dose where 50% of the tested population die.

With regard to cannabis:
There has not been enough official research done to establish ED50, TD50 or LD50 values.  Furthermore, cannabis plant strains vary greatly in their active components and not all chemicals in each plant are fully understood. Although direct death from cannabis overdose is a disputed topic, there are some seemingly therapeutic and toxic symptoms known to arise.

Therapeutic symptoms of cannabis use may include:
-muscle relaxation
-increases in introspection/creativity
-increase in appetite
-reduce nausea
-reduce chronic pain/muscle spasms
-prevention of epileptic seizures
-treatment for some forms of cancer
-treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Potentially toxic symptoms of cannabis use include:
-memory loss
-panic attacks
-increased heart rate
-vomiting (especially when taken with alcohol)
-hallucinations and hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD)

Potentially toxic symptoms of cannabis withdrawal include:
-explosive outbursts of anger
-emotional sensitivity
…and any symptoms listed above as potentially toxic symptoms related to use.

There are also associated risks with any drug related to the route of entry.  Risks associated with each route of entry are listed below:

Risks associated with Intravenous Injection:
-sudden death (NEVER inject cannabis oil or cannabis alcohol or you may die immediately)
-heart attack
-infection of entry point
-blood infection

Risks associated with Smoking:
-sudden death
-heart attack
-lung cancer
-throat cancer
-problems breathing
-chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Risks associated with Oral consumption:
-digestion problems
-upset stomach

For more detailed and specific information on the effects of cannabis, refer to the documentary below:

For more information on potentially toxic chemicals used in our daily lives, please refer to the documentary below:


-There are multiple ways to ingest drugs and they vary greatly in how they effect potency of effect, effect duration, withdrawal intensity and cost sustainability.

-Taking higher doses of a drug increases the potency of effect, effect duration and withdrawal intensity.  Higher doses are more costly to sustain.

-Repeatedly dosing the same amount of a drug causes diminishing returns.  The potency of the effect decreases until a new equilibrium is established in the body.  The effect duration gets shorter and shorter as the body builds up a tolerance to the drug.  The withdrawal intensity increases with repeated dosing.  More drug is needed to sustain the same effects over time.

-Intravenous injection is the most risky way to take a drug, but will get you feeling the effect at the fastest rate possible.  It also has yields the most severe withdrawal symptoms, has an extremely short effect duration and is the most costly due to the need to consume large amounts regularly to sustain the effects.

-Smoking is a potentially risky way to take a drug, but will get you feeling the effects quickly.  It yields some withdrawal symptoms and has a moderate effect duration. Smoking is somewhat costly due to loss of effective drugs through heat loss when ignited and the need to consume regularly to sustain the effects.

-Oral consumption is the least risky way to take a drug but will take longer to feel the effects of a drug.  It still can yield withdrawal symptoms, but they are the least severe when compared to injection or inhalation.  This is the least costly method to sustain effects.

-Every substance consumed has an associated dopamine response.

-Dopamine responses can reinforce habitual use of a drug via acquisition, observation and preparation of the drug.

-Any drug can be toxic or lethal depending on the dose.  If possible, research the ED50, TD50 and LD50 before use of any drug.



Everyday Consumption – Eating and Shopping: Reward Systems Part 3


I decided to do some research on the dopamine system because it seemed to be a primary motivator in reward signaling.  As it turned out, the function of dopamine and the formation of addictive mechanisms seemed to be a fundamental attribute to how we perceive our daily activities in the modern world.  Skip to the bottom for conclusions if you don’t want to read everything.

Specifically, I found a lengthy paper that compiled a wealth of valuable research done regarding non-drug addictions.  This paper described the function of reward chemistry with respect to consumption of sugar, fat and other sensory stimuli (visual and auditory).  I felt it was worth partially summarizing this information in this post.  Additionally, I will recommend some documentaries to watch that touch upon these topics.

This paper references another critical reward system called the opiod system.  The opiod system has five receptor classes that each interact with different parts of the brain and body.  Some of the brain domains that opiods interact with are our usual suspects from part 1 and part 2. These domains are the amygdala, hippocampus, and hypothalamus. As you might imagine, the opiod system, therefore, has regulatory power in anxiety, depression and appetite.

The body domains include the spinal cord and intestinal tract. The spinal cord is particularly important in sending signals from the brain to the body.  As such, some opiates have an analgesic (or pain-killing) effect which interrupts communication between the brain and body.  Furthermore, opiates can also cause sedation, euphoria and dissociative effects.  The most well known opiates with these properties are heroin and morphine.


Opiods also help to control absorption of nutrients from food in the intestinal tract.  It is worth noting that the small intestine is a key area where nutrients are absorbed and where many pharmaceuticals begin processing throughout the body.

Since the paper has multiple aspects, I will summarize them individually.  The first summary will be regarding sugar & fat.


Reference 1:

Olsen, Christopher M. “Natural Rewards, Neuroplasticity, and Non-Drug Addictions.” Neuropharmacology 61.7 (2011) PMC. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.

People suffering from what may be considered “non-drug” or “behavioral” addictions are becoming increasingly documented in the clinic, and symptoms include compulsive activities such as shopping, eating, exercising, sexual behavior, gambling, and video games

Prevalence rates in the United States have been estimated at 1–2% for pathological gambling, 5% for compulsive sexual behavior 2.8% for binge-eating disorder and 5–6% for compulsive buying

Like substance addictions, non-drug addictions manifest in similar psychological and behavioral patterns including craving, impaired control over the behavior, tolerance, withdrawal, and high rates of relapse

Functional neuroimaging studies in humans have shown that gambling, shopping, orgasm, playing video games, and the sight of appetizing food activate many of the same brain regions (i.e., the mesocorticolimbic system and extended amygdala) as drugs of abuse

“…evidence suggests that non-drug addictions may lead to neuroadaptations similar to those reported with long-term drug use

This statement directly draws the parallel between drugs and rewarding activities in daily life.
This alteration is at least in part mediated by sensitized nucleus accumbens (NAc) dopamine (DA) release

I described the role of addiction with regard to the nucleus accumbens and dopamine in part 2.

In rats that were trained to press a lever to receive intravenous self-administration of drugs, highly palatable foods such as sugar and saccharin were shown to reduce self-administration of cocaine and heroin

Rats often chose sugar instead of cocaine when they were put in a cage with a means to get cocaine on request.

Neurobehavioral adaptations following a history of palatable food intake have been likened to those observed following drugs of abuse, prompting several scientists to propose that dysregulation of food intake may be similar to addiction”

“…has extensive data demonstrating behavioral plasticity following a history of intermittent sugar access, which has led […] to propose that sugar consumption that meets criteria for addiction.  This notion is supported by the fact that several examples of plasticity seen following repeated drug exposure are also observed following intermittent access to not only sugar, but also fat.

repeated access to sugar, escalation of intake is observed, a phenomenon previously associated with cocaine and heroin self-administration

When rats repeatedly have sugar available to consume, they eat it and build up a tolerance for reward.  This causes them to eat larger amounts of sugar over time.

“Following removal of sugar or fat access, withdrawal symptoms including anxiety- and depressive-like behaviors emerge”

Withdrawal from sugar or fat can cause anxiety and depression.

dopamine and opioid signaling appears to be susceptible to adaptations following intermittent access to high sugar or high fat foods”

“adaptations in accumbal and striatal dopamine receptors parallel those seen in rodents repeatedly administered cocaine or morphine”

Transcription factors are another class of molecule implicated in mediating enduring effects of drugs of abuse by directly affecting gene expression”

-Transcription factors are proteins or molecules that serve to activate or deactivate expression of specific genes in DNA.  Altering transcription factor activity can have long-lasting effects on future cellular growth patterns.

“…the transcription factor delta FosB is increased during access to high fat diet

“…delta FosB is also increased following withdrawal from these drugs as well as cocaine, nicotine, ethanol [(alcohol)]

Recent evidence suggests that exposure to some non-drug rewards can impart “protection” from drug rewards. For example, sugar and saccharin can reduce self-administration of cocaine and heroin and these natural reinforcers have been demonstrated to outcompete cocaine in choice self-administration in a large majority of rats”

“…drugs of abuse exert actions within the brain that are similar to, albeit more pronounced than natural rewards”

-It seems one could substitute partial rewards from drugs with rewards from other everyday sources like food.


The addictive effects produced from excessive consumption of sugar and fat have severe consequences.  Large portions of the developed world (particularly the United States & England) have an ongoing obesity epidemic.  Addiction to sugar or fat can eventually lead to heart disease (the number one killer in the US), diabetes, increased cancer risk and a host of many other problems.

I wanted to learn more about why sugar and fat are so harmful.  There is a large amount of data out there regarding dieting, sugar and fat.  Much of the data is skewed or biased, so I started seeking out information with solid data and experimentation.  A few quick internet searches led me to the following documentaries, (which I recommend if you want to learn more):

1.)”Fed Up[video] is a documentary specifically geared toward educating us on the effects of sugar.  It covers metabolism of sugar, marketing tactics to promote sugar and the effects sugar has on society in the US.  This is a very comprehensive documentary with many aspects.

2.) “Forks Over Knives” [video] is a documentary with solid data against current nutritional advice given to the public in the US.  It offers results from real experiments conducted by scientists and medical professionals that correlate animal based and processed food consumption with rising rates of heart disease and cancer.  The linked video is an abridged summary, but I recommend watching the full film.

3.)”Way Beyond Weight[video] is a documentary about how sugary and fattening foods are marketed specifically to children.  It takes place primarily in Brazil, but concepts discussed are the same in the US.  This is a free alternative with information similar to “Fed Up”.

4.)”Horizon: Sugar v Fat [video] is an episode in a BBC 2 series (from England) where we follow two twin brothers (who are doctors) and their experiments to determine whether sugar or fat is worse for you.  One brother eats only a high fat diet, and the other only a high sugar diet for a month.  They collect interesting data along the way.

Next, I will go over how this paper describes reward mechanics for more abstract sensory stimuli.  (As a bonus, the rest of this post just might help you save a lot of money in the long-run).


Reference 1 continued:

Novel environments, sensory stimuli, […] have all been shown to activate the mesolimbic DA system suggesting overlap with addiction circuitry

The term “novel environments” entails environments where something new has been added or a brand new location altogether.  In the human case, “novelty” might refer to a new piece of furniture or a new gadget for instance.  “Sensory stimuli” might include watching television or browsing the internet.

In human populations, sensation and novelty seeking have been linked to susceptibility, intake, and severity of drug abuse”

In rodents, response to novelty has also been correlated with subsequent drug self-administration

-Rats will self-medicate when confronted with new environments.

Sensory stimuli (especially visual and auditory stimuli) have been studied for their reinforcing properties and we have recently demonstrated an involvement of dopaminergic […] signaling in mediating the reinforcing properties of varied sensory stimuli

This really peaked my interest.  Certainly, reward signaling seems to play a role when we are seeing or hearing something we like; however, it seems abstract that something new showing up in our environment would have any neurological reward effect.  Maybe this has something to do with advertisements, and how marketers reel us in to buy the next new item we think we need.  Why do we think we need it anyways?

I dug a bit deeper and found more papers with experimental data documenting reward effects from sensory stimuli regarding shopping.  These researchers showed people pictures of various type of shopping scenes and measured their eye movements & dilation to rate a relative arousal intensityKeep in mind the following references are psychology papers, and therefore do not have biological testing to back up their results.  Nonetheless, I was impressed with their conclusions.


Reference 2:

“Serfas, Benjamin G., Oliver B. Büttner, and Arnd Florack. “Eyes Wide Shopped: Shopping Situations Trigger Arousal in Impulsive Buyers.” Ed. Susana Jiménez-Murcia. PLoS ONE 9.12 (2014): e114593. PMC. Web. 31 Aug. 2016.”

For pictures depicting shopping scenes, high buying impulsiveness was accompanied by an increased intensity of arousal

shopping situations without any act of purchasing—even without any possibility to purchase—already trigger arousal in impulsive buyers

Arousal of highly impulsive buyers was not restricted to specific shopping scenes; but buying impulsiveness is linked to intensity of arousal in a wide range of shopping scenes

“Moreover, the results indicate that this arousal of impulsive buyers is a basic physiological reaction that is independent from cognitive evaluations of the shopping scene”

So it seems there are people who get really turned on from thinking about shopping.  It doesn’t even matter what type of shopping.  They will get aroused about shopping without thinking about the utility or relevance of the purchases.  I remember a time when I was in the check-out line at a department store and an older lady in front of me said “Wow!  I got all these things and forgot to get what I came here for!”.  Her cart had over a dozen items and her total at the register was well over $100.


Does the picture above make you excited about buying something?

I found another paper that did a statistical survey analysis on a variety of behavioral disorders.  It included “Compulsive Buying Behavior” (CBB) as one disorder.


Reference 3:
Granero, Roser et al. “Compulsive Buying Behavior: Clinical Comparison with Other Behavioral Addictions.” Frontiers in Psychology 7 (2016): 914. PMC. Web. 31 Aug. 2016.

“Regarding the CBB phenotype, research studies highlight shared common features with other behavioral addictions”

“Research has shown that compulsive buying is characterized by high impulsivity scores, novelty seeking”

“…furthermore, dysfunctional emotion regulation also seems to be implied in the phenotype of behavioral addictions, particularly in aspects such as managing cravings and withdrawal symptoms”

“CBB is associated with significant comorbidity, particularly with psychiatric conditions that are also highly prevalent in other behavioral addictions such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance use, other impulse control disorders, and eating disorders”

“…considering other variables, CBB was characterized by: (a) a higher level of education compared to IGD [(internet gaming disorder)] and gambling addiction; (b) higher prevalence of being married or living with a partner compared to the IGD and Internet addiction groups; (c) higher levels of employment compared to IGD; and (d) compared to gambling disorder, lower prevalence of smoking, and alcohol abuse and other drug use/abuse”

“CBB is characterized by a higher proportion of women, older age and age of onset, poorer general psychopathological state and higher levels of novelty seeking and harm avoidance and moderate levels of reward dependence, persistence, and cooperativeness. In this sense, CBB patients could be described as being curious, easily bored, impulsive and active seekers of new stimuli and reward, but at the same time showing pessimism and worry in anticipation of upcoming challenges”

“Differences in the psychological state and personality traits between the diagnostic subtypes are also relevant: CBB and sexual addiction showed similar profiles, with their psychopathological symptoms and personality scores being clearly worse than for gambling, IGD, and Internet addictions”

We all like to buy things we care about whether it is a heartfelt card for a sick relative, a new pair on jeans or the next first-person shooter game.  But it’s important to recognize that our purchases might largely be driven by biases in our neurological reward systems.  Furthermore,  many of our cravings might be initiated or catalyzed by subliminal cues in the imagery we see or music we hear.  There are plenty of pictures in malls of people shopping,  an abundance of lyrics about spending money in music and more enticing ads on television than ever before.  These techniques are used to turn us on, and get us in the mood to go buy something.

I’ve watched numerous documentaries of various facets of consumerism, marketing and advertising that might help you make more informed decisions about where to put your money:

5.)”Class Dismissed: How TV Frames the Working Class”  [video] describes methods in popular television to paint a picture of a desirable future through accumulation of wealth and purchasing power.  It talks specifically about how economic classes are portrayed in the media.

6.)”Dreamworlds II: Desire, Sex, Power in Music Video [video] highlights how auditory and visual inputs can alter how we perceive our places in society. Music videos are filled with imagery that potentially manipulate how we think of gender roles.  Ultimately, reinforcing these roles might assist in focusing us for sex-specific consumption.

7.)”The True Cost[video]  talks specifically about fashion companies  and the repercussions of massive clothing consumption.  It outlines where the clothes we buy come from and the negative environmental/social impacts resulting from feeding such an industry.

8.)”In Debt We Trust[video] describes how the credit system funnels many people in the US into a situation where they are perpetually in debt.  People are reeled in with the promise of spending without consequence, but are then required to pay back at rates beyond their means.

9.)”Inequality for All[video]  discusses how our economic practices have divided the classes and caused an enormous wealth gap.  It includes detailed explanations on class differences and how the gap occurred.

Conclusions from papers:

1.)  Our reward systems can be regulated by various non-drug rewards that yield drug-like behavior.

2.)  Sugar and fat impact our reward systems via dopamine and opiod transmission in addition to gene expression manipulation.

3.) Sensory stimuli including images and music can be used to arouse us and in turn, our reward systems.  This can manifest itself in making impulse purchases.


Conclusions from documentaries:

1.) Fed Up:

-Sugar can cause the liver to initiate insulin production, which causes sugars to be turned directly into fats.  This can lead to fatty liver disease.

-Insulin resistance can occur, leading to an inability to convert sugars into fats properly.

-The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends no more than 25g of sugar to be consumed daily for a proper diet.

-The US has no recommended daily value of sugar intake in nutrition facts and this leads to sugar intake well over the WHO recommendation.

2.) Forks Over Knives:

-There are expansion and satiety receptors in our stomach that control our brains’ craving/reward functions.  Processed food can increase consumption by decreasing stomach expansion and satiety responses.

-Nutritional values can be correlated to incidence of various types of cancer and heart disease.

-Converting largely to a diet consisting of unprocessed vegetables and fruits potentially improves prevention against some cancers and heart disease.

-Casein, a protein compound found in meat and dairy products, may increase cancer cell growth rates under certain conditions.

3.) Way Beyond Weight: 

-Marketing to children with cartoons can have a severe impact on their diet and long-term food preferences

-School lunches are largely under control from industries that provide high sugar and fat meal solutions.

-There has been a large increase in the number of obese children, and therefore more cases of childhood health problems.

-Life expectancy for future generations is projected to be less time than currently existing adults.

4.) Horizon: Sugar v Fat:

-Foods with a near equal amount of sugar and fat content can drastically impact reward chemistry and craving behaviors.

-A high fat diet can cause muscle mass to be consumed more rapidly and therefore imbalance hormone levels in the body.

-A high fat diet can compromise quick cognitive reading skills.

-A high sugar diet can prevent weight from being lost more effectively when compared to a high fat diet.

5.) Class Dismissed: How TV Frames the Working Class:

-There are basic formulas for classes in media that are reinforced in many different shows.

– Most shows regarding the family unit have messaging to imply a better life through materialism.

-Races and genders also have formulaic roles in television shows.

6.) Dreamworlds II: Desire, Sex, Power in Music Video:

-Music videos relay repetitive messages regarding the roles of men & women in society.

-Men are always shown as a vessel of power, balance, and aggression in such a way that positively reinforces these characteristics.

-Women are always shown as sexual, imbalanced and subordinate to men.

7.) The True Cost:

-The fashion industry produces the second largest amount of waste in the world today, second only to the oil industry.

-People in poorer countries such as India and Cambodia must work their entire lives away with poor wages and dangerous working conditions for the sake of regular fashion trends.

-Many people die and many water resources are contaminated for clothing in the developed world.

-Fashion uses gender roles and sexuality in advertising to encourage people to keep up with trending outfits.

8.) In Debt We Trust:

-Credit cards are a potentially dangerous solution to short term money problems or uninhibited cravings.

-Credit interest rates and payment schedules are set up to force the user into a position where they never get out of debt.

-The amount of families in the US suffering from crippling debt from loans, mortgages and credit cards is very large.

9.) Inequality for All:

-Logically unsound economic principles have motivated practices that are not close to equally sustainable for all classes.

-Government has often endorsed risky economics, which has led to the largest wealth gap between rich and poor in United States history.

-With regard to money, the top 1% of the population owns more than a third of all the wealth in the country, while the bottom 40% own less than 1% of the wealth.



Glowing Drinks Under Blacklight: Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)


In college I did an experiment in my analytical chemistry lab class that measured fluorescence from riboflavin in beer.  I was able to apply the fluorescent properties of riboflavin to other drinks.  Adding riboflavin to water and mixing it with food coloring allowed me to produce drinks with multiple bright colors when exposed to blacklight.  I took some photos throughout the process to document roughly what I did:

In the picture on the left above is a vitamin B2 pill I picked up at a local pharmacy.  Exposed under normal light, the pill has an orange-yellow color.  On the right is a handful of pills  exposed to blacklight.  The pill glows a brilliant greenish-yellow under this lighting condition.

I ground up the pills with a mortar & pestle to make a powder.  Decreasing the surface area of the pills this way will allow soluble molecules to go into solution easier.  I added a tablespoon of water to this small amount of powder and immediately saw the water transform into a bright green liquid.

Then, I mixed the powder around in the water to solubilize it. However, I was unable to completely solubilize the powder.  If you look carefully at the picture above, you can see two distinct layers.  There is the bright green top layer which is solubilized vitamin B2 and a thinner, darker yellow layer at the bottom.  The bottom layer is vitamin B2 powder which did not go into solution.

This is likely due to the other non-reactive components used to sustain the vitamin B2 pills.  Most pills are made with a mixture of chemicals (like the very insoluble magnesium stearate) to improve their stability or slow the release of active chemicals over time.

The insolubility could also simply be due to the small volume I added to the powder.  This amount of powder may be above the solubility threshold at this volume.  To achieve solubility in this case, I would need to add more volume of liquid, change the pH of the solution or add heat to the mixture.

In lieu of having proper chemistry equipment, I did not want to attempt a pH adjustment or boil the solution.  Frankly, I didn’t really care to get all of the vitamin into solution anyways, since even the small amount that did solubilize produced the green glowing liquid I wanted.


Instead I produced a larger volume of liquid vitamin B2 and attempted to filter the insoluble bits through a coffee filter.  I was able to remove a lot of sediment, but unable to completely remove all of it.  This is likely because the small pores in the coffee filter are still too large to capture the clumps of insoluble sediment.  I would need a smaller filter pore diameter (maybe 0.45 or 0.2 micrometers) to thoroughly filter this liquid.


Nonetheless, I moved forward with the slightly insoluble liquid and made serial dilutions of it in cups of water.  In the picture on the left above,  the first glass was made using a tablespoon of the filtered base solution from above.  I took a tablespoon of the resulting liquid from the first cup and mixed it with a cup of water in the second glass.  This was repeated for five glasses of water.  You can see the brilliant green getting serially diluted into a duller yellow color.

In the picture on the right above, I titrated a droplets of blue food dye into equally bright glasses of water.  I made five glasses worth of water + the filtered base solution, and added drops of blue dye.  The first glass on the left has no dye.  The second glass has one drop, the third glass has two drops and so forth.  Notice that the bright green turns slowly more teal and darker from left to right.  By the last glass, a lot of the fluorescence was gone.  This is because the dark food dye absorbs a lot of light.

I made this video above to outline  how I made the drinks in the picture at the top of this post.  Additionally, I tried adding tonic water to the base riboflavin mixture.  The green and blue mixed to a point of light saturation and turned white.

1.) Vitamin B2 can be used to make consumable bright green drinks.

2.) Food coloring can be added to a vitamin B2 solution to make drinks of different colors.

3.) Too much food coloring can cause fluorescence from the riboflavin to be lost.

4.) Mixing tonic water and a vitamin B2 solution can yield bright white drinks.

5.) Vitamin B2 pills are not fully soluble.  So, if you make these drinks at a party, you might want to do some filtering of the base solution.  Let your guests know that the sediment in your pitcher or punch bowl is a harmless vitamin.