Behold the Emerging Era of Consumable Mood
Historically, moods happen. People don’t really control their moods, they cope with them.
All kinds of mechanisms have been created to help people lift a bad mood or cool the fevered brow of overexcitement: Yoga, long-distance running, cigarettes, sex, valium, meditation.
These all work to some degree with some people some of the time. But they represent more art than science, and moods remain like storms; they roll up on us suddenly, unexpectedly, and sometimes violently.
Now, though, we are seeing science step into the world of mood in a big way. We stand at the edge of an era of consumable mood.
What are the roots of human mood? Changes in body chemistry that drive shifts in brain chemistry that alter what our body is doing in the moment and how we perceive external events. At core, mood is in the mind, but the mind is a slave of the body. The brain can’t see, but can only interpret signals from the eyes or pain signals from the cells or other biochemical input. If that input is altered in subtle and sophisticated ways, the brain can be induced to alter its sense of the moment, and therefore the emotional and perceptual signals it creates. In other words, the body can be suborned to managing the mind toward certain outcomes.
What this implies is that people should soon be able to order up the mood they want. A bit of extra creativity. A profound sense of calm. A reduced sense of danger to drive increased athletic performance. Feelings of tenderness or openness toward another.
Imagine that you could go onto an e-store or into your phone and purchase the exact mood for the moment. It is heady stuff and becoming quite real, scientifically.
We have portfolio companies working on products based on emotional second skin, structured stimulations of the vagus nerve to predictably alter perception, AI to generate ingredients that will stimulate microbiome responses for particular people to shift their energy, and biofeedback systems that let people “teach” themselves out of anxiety or rage.
As investors in health and happiness, consumable mood stands at the heart of what we do. We think it holds the potential to generate delightful moments for people and to help them live longer and better by reducing stress and the corollary problems it brings over time.
But, as positive as we are about consumable mood, we have some concerns. There is a big difference between having the mood you want and having the mood you need. Discomfort, uneasiness, and even fear can have real value for people in certain circumstances. Being out of our comfort zones is one way people grow. If we can choose our moods, will we always choose wisely? Will we become, in a sense, addicted to feeling good? Should scientists and investors even worry about this kind of potentiality, or simply focus on bringing forward new possibilities and let markets work out these issues as they arise?
Also, how can mood be sold? Not by the pound. By the moment? Through devices on or in our bodies that pick up and dispense signals? If so, who makes the choices for what gets captured and what is the response? A teen might crave more excitement while her parent desires the exact opposite for her. A coach could push an athlete into areas where that individual might not choose to go. Or perhaps mood is best delivered systemically, like a treatment, under supervision. But what does that mean for free choice and individual agency? An ill-intended controller of such a system could render a population into sheeple or super soldiers absent of conscience or fear.
Change, when it is ready to happen, happens. Consumable mood is unstoppable. So we should all start thinking hard about its implications.
By Managing Partner Mike Edelhart