Happiness Trifecta

The Real Life Ventures and Adventures of Trey and Batman

by Trey Nosrac

Sitting on the front porch of his family farm, waiting for the arrival of a contractor to review progress on a horse barn under construction, my new horse racing partner opened the proceedings speaking like a college professor.

“Yesterday, we were talking about the concept of linking voluntary charitable donations to winning wagers on horse races.”

“You were talking. I was trying not to laugh.” I replied.

He grinned, “I ran a beta test, you played lab rat.”

“You mean your stunt where you sent me to pay the breakfast tab next to the donation box?” (full story here)

He nodded, “When I suggested this could be useful for your sport, you thought I was a ridiculous clown, a dreamer, a do-gooder who doesn’t understand the horse racing game, and someone who’s not even a gambler.”

I gave him a so/so shake of my hand and replied, “Ridiculous clown is a bit harsh.”

“Trey, this concept is cold, hard, business. The intention is to increase the flow of gambling money, the heartbeat of your beloved sport.”

“Where do you get these ideas? Do you drink from some sort of secret fountain of far-out ideas in Palo Alto?”

He smiled, “My work was diving deep with teams of various research experts. We wormed into the human psyche. Our goal was, and is, to discover why people buy what they buy and watch what they watch? Once we know WHY we can devise HOW.”

“And diving into harness racing is your new hobby?”

He smiled, “Predictive analytics is the foundation of the new marketplace. Once upon a time, we studied how people would act and react, and then we would use that data to sell and manipulate.”

At this point, he paused, gazed into the distance, and added, “Today, and this is one of the reasons I got out, artificial intelligence will do the marketing. The future will find machines bending our minds and this is very troubling for many of us. Artificial intelligence causes a lot of stress.”

I tapped my index finger on my forehead, “I’ve always preferred natural stupidity, very little stress. Speaking of stupidity, are you serious about gamblers donating?”

“Yes, based on science. Trey, people are social. Humans are wired to help. When someone falls, we automatically want to help. Ironically, in our current complex society, even with social media, helping is not as easy as it used to be. How do you take soup to your neighbor if you do not really know who your neighbor is?”

“I’ve had five new neighbors in the last ten years. I thought it was me.”

“And those neighbors spend days staring at screens.” He paused and asked, “What do you know about the neural network?”

“I don’t think it’s in my cable bundle.”

Batman might have missed my jest or he was deep into serious mode, because he just plowed ahead, “Horseracing needs to reach for the trifecta that rules in the world of marketing and motivation in the brave new world. Human brains are complex. However, the neurochemical drivers of happiness are very simple to identify. Dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin make up the Happiness Trifecta. When an event happens that increases the production of these neurochemicals, the person will have a boost in mood.

I nodded, “Well sure, I win a race, I get a jolt of happy juice. But gambling on horses already has that covered.”

“Partially. The rewards are no longer as tangible as they used to be – a teller does not count out money and hand it to you, the social feedback is less than it used to be at the racetrack. Many of my ideas for your sport rely on simple scientific facts that increase internal rewards.”

“Are these Trump facts?”

“They are medical facts. Neuroscience demonstrates that donating is a powerful method of creating personal joy and improving health. It is a two-way street. The release of these happy juices means that both the giver and receiver will have a positive reaction. Say in harness racing, a person you hardly know in the next barn suddenly gets ill. You volunteer to take in one of their horses. The happy trifecta kicks in for you both.

“Really, happy juices?”

“Sleep, memory, learning, and appetite are in the domain of serotonin release. Motivation and arousal come from dopamine. For the public, oxytocin flies under the radar, but his one affects the brain and the body. When oxytocin begins to flow, blood pressure decreases and good things happen including trust and empathy enhancement. Oxytocin is also an anti-inflammatory and enhances healing.”

“So what you are saying is that if a person like me voluntarily decides to check a box on my gambling site that sends a sliver of my winning tickets to a charity, I benefit.”

He finger shoots me and says, “Everybody benefits — the giver, the receiver, the overall perception of the sport, even the non-participants in the program because pools will be larger. Another way to look at this is — who would be hurt by this type of a program?”

I couldn’t think of a rebuttal. This encouraged him to continue evangelizing.

“And there are more predictive analytic studies that offer promise. Once a person gets used to helping or donating, especially if they get feedback, the more they want to help. It’s a chemical cycle, a habit that has legs… or should have four legs and a smile at the finish line.”

“Addicts have chemical cycles.”

He replied, “Exactly. It works both ways, for good and for bad. Do you go to Starbucks?”

“Not often, I prefer that my cup of coffee doesn’t cost more than my shoes. Also, ordering a mocha latte crema grande trenta feels like somebody is just messing with me.”

He chuckled, “Gambling on horses is not selling coffee at Starbucks, but racing should learn some lessons. Starbucks works hard to create reasons to make people smile. They are extraordinarily successful and customers swallow the costs. They combine the addictive powers of caffeine and an environment where people smile. The process boosts the mood and the health of customers.”

I shrugged, “Racing and gambling can be a tad grim. Smiles in the grandstands are rare. Well, people in the grandstands are rare. You don’t have the chance to see smiles when people win a race on their I-pad.”

“You are correct. Online gambling is a different animal but is the animal in play and charitable giving is a powerful motivator. Your sport needs to realize that while money is important, it is not everything. Winning a horseracing wager should send off all sorts of positive reactions in the human brain, and when the juices begin to flow, amp the experience up. The happiness trifecta should be a huge part of a winning ticket.”