Is It OK to Want to Feel Scared?

halloween pumpkins, being scared

I’ve never been one for Halloween. I don’t understand why we have an entire holiday dedicated to celebrating fear. In high school, friends would flock in groups to the movie theater to watch the latest scary movie, visit the top-rated haunted house, or spend hours playing the latest frightening video game. But I always stayed back. Why spend time and money to watch terrifying reminders of how scary the world can be? “Because it’s fun,” my friends would say.

Why Fear and Suspense Bring Us Pleasure

What’s fun about voluntarily putting your body in fight or flight? As a notorious planner, I spend so much time trying to avoid a pounding heartbeat, butterflies in my stomach, a cold sweat…why would I put myself in a situation where I feel terrorized?

To better understand why people love for things that make you jump out of you seat, let’s explore why these feelings of fear and suspense bring pleasure to so many people.

Your brain has your back

Different people have different personalities, which contribute to their different views on fear, but many enjoy the feeling of horror because deep down they know they’re safe — their frontal lobe tells them so. That part of the brain modulates the primitive response that tells us we’re OK. Your brain processes contextual information and knows you’re not truly in danger. It’s what makes going to a haunted house a fun novelty but getting followed in an alley very far from that.

Fear creates distraction

Another reason many enjoy being spooked is the sense of escapism it provides. It’s the same reason I spend my weekends keeping up with the Kardashians. When we experience these scary emotions, we get a break from our day-to-day lives. In a world full of rising stress, it’s enjoyable to be fully in our bodies, feeling primal and free. There’s also a curiosity factor here. The “dark side” is appealing because it’s mysterious and unknown — tapping into it brings us pleasure as we try to understand it, even if it’s also creeping us out.

Fear also creates a sense of control. Once our brain recognizes that there isn’t a real threat and we can enjoy the moment, we feel at ease and take ownership of our feelings. In a situation that feels full of unknowns, it’s empowering to feel control.

A closeness with others

Once, and only once, I gave in and went to a haunted house. Why? A crush, of course. He knew I’d get scared, I knew I’d get scared, and we’d have to be close to each other for protection. To teenage-me, that was the only reason worth being uncomfortable.

While this makes sense on the surface, there’s more to it than that. For someone like my crush, feeling scared brings pleasure, and when you’re in the company of someone you like, feeling that pleasure can help you connect with the person, not the fear. So, you can leave an outing like a haunted house or scary movie imagine the other person spiked your mood when really the other emotions played a big role.

Think about it, you often see people hug or high five leaving a haunted house. Sure, they’re happy to have taken this challenge on together, but they could also be confusing their bond with their response to fear.

It’s good practice

Being scared is…scary. But Halloween-type activities let us conquer our fears in a safe way, under the guise of entertainment. We feel tough for being strong enough to endure these frights — we feel we’re becoming more resilient — so if we’re ever actually scared, we’re prepared. Sure, at the end of the day, nothing can stop our bodies from feeling true fear. And while we feel comfortable in our ability to shrug off fear in the future — it’s not necessarily true. That’s why when the experience feels “too real” it’s no longer fun.

There are a number of other reasons people enjoy this holiday and all of the scariness that comes with it. In this Ted Talk, sociologist Margee Kerr, a sociologist who studies fear, shares the physical and psychological effects of fear on the body to figure out why being scared is so fun.This Halloween, think about your response to fear and why you act the way you do. For me, being scared, however silly, means a lack of control — pass the candy and nothing else, please. But as you can see, there are plenty of reasons others look forward to the treats and the tricks.

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