There was a guy on television the other day who said that he didn’t like feeling scared. Well, that started me thinking that I don’t like feeling scared either. Feeling scared, that emotion or instinct or whatever you want to call it, has been a part of human survival ever since the first caveman saw the first predatory mammal running towards him bearing its fangs. Fear is primal and it serves a very important purpose. It’s how we know that something not good is about to happen to us.
The dictionary defines fear as “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid. Synonyms: foreboding, apprehension, consternation, dismay, dread, terror, fright, panic, horror, trepidation, qualm.” This instinctive emotion we possess kicks in to save us from being hurt or maybe even getting killed. It’s a warning signal. DANGER! DANGER! It’s as if our gut is saying, “Hey stupid, a car is coming at you at 100 MPH, better do something quick or you’ll be road kill!” When that feeling comes over us we, hopefully, do something to save ourselves, like jump back out of the way of the car.
But since feeling scared is a precursor to something bad happening, it stands to reason that it is something I never want to experience if I can avoid it. I mean, I would much prefer to feel joyful, or to feel love, or to feel comfort. I would even rather feel a little sad than feel scared. So who DOES want to feel scared? You’d think nobody, right? Wrong. As it turns out, lots of people do. Millions actually go to great lengths to feel scared.
How else do you explain amusement park thrill rides or Halloween haunted houses, or jumping out of airplanes, or swinging on bungee cords? Why do so many people purposely put themselves into a state of fear? Of course we’re not talking about our brave military or fire fighters or police. They have to go through rigorous training to overcome their natural fear so that they can protect and save us. No, I’m talking about everyday people who think it’s “fun” to fool their psyches into thinking that they are in imminent danger.
I never thought it was “fun” to feel like I was in imminent danger, never in my entire life, even as a stupid kid. I never liked rickety roller coasters or fun houses where people jumped out at you, or any sort of crazy amusement park attraction that induced fear. It’s not my idea of great fun. Great fun is laughing out loud, eating a wonderful dinner, making love, or playing with a baby – it’s not getting scared out of your gourd. Have you gotten the idea yet? I just don’t like feeling scared.
And yet I enjoy watching old monster movies, but to my way of thinking, watching scary movies doesn’t count. When I watch a movie I’m sitting comfortably in my home and not putting myself in a state of possible danger. I know Boris Karloff isn’t really going to get me, I know that Lon Chaney Jr. as the wolf man isn’t coming through the window. Jumping out of an open airplane, however, is a whole different story. You could actually die if the parachute doesn’t open.
According to what I’ve read, being scared is a very strong aphrodisiac and stimulant to some people. People can get “high” out of getting spooked. It has something to do with fear producing an increase in dopamine release to the system. So what is dopamine? Psychology Today defines it as a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them. Becoming scared triggers a dopamine rush.
But here’s the thing, you can also trigger dopamine by simply eating the right kinds of food, like meat, dairy, nuts, and seeds. So what would YOU rather do? Bungee jump or go out and eat a steak dinner at Ruth’s Chris? Would you rather flagpole sit from the Empire State Building or have a handful of almonds? Sky dive or have a cheeseburger?
So this Halloween when lots of people will be looking for the scariest things to do to themselves, I’ll be soaking up my own brand of dopamine – sitting in my warm and comfy house having a drink, eating a good meal, and watching the Frankenstein movie marathon with my wife. Call it the quiet man’s dopamine high.