Nearly every activity you fear can turn into something that brings you joy. Don't believe it? There's proof. And it involves that old scientific standby โ€” applying electricity to animals.

There's nothing quite like a psychological theory based on something that was first proposed in 1878. Ewald Hering was a 19th century physiologist who was fascinated by the concept of opposites โ€” or more precisely, opponents. He believed that all the colors we perceive are generated by "visual opponents," like red and green or blue and yellow.

Advertisement

The physical became the emotional a century later, when Richard Solomon, a psychologist, came up with the idea of opponent emotions. Relief and fear were opponents, as were happiness and sadness. As one opponent abates, the other increases. Solomon his colleague, John Corbit, tested this out by tracking the emotions of sky divers through successive jumps. During their first time leaping out of an airplane, most skydivers were terrified when they jumped, and relieved when they landed.

That could be a good example of what Solomon and Corbit called the opponent-process theory, but that theory doesn't only work over short periods of time or during one experience. As skydivers continued to jump, the fear dissipated, and the joy and relief increased. By scaring the hell out of themselves during their first experience, they created the potential for thrill and happiness in later experiences.

Solomon and Corbit also tested the theory out by gently shocking dogs. The shocks always came after a certain stimulus. This, naturally, made the dogs very scared and unhappy. When the researchers continued the stimulus, but stopped shocking the dogs, the dogs became happy and excited when the pain they expected didn't come.

Advertisement

That might sound simple, but it implies that when you instill fear and trepidation in someone, you are giving them the potential for relief and exhilaration. That "someone" could be yourself. Doing something that scares you could be step one in a process that leads to the fear fading away, and the happiness and relief kicking in.

On the other hand, giving someone joy can also be the first step in a process that winds up making them miserable. Plan accordingly.

Image: Liza/Pixabay

[Via An Opponent-Process Theory of Motivation.]

Advertisement