Oscar Wilde opined that life imitates art and this month, despite normally (and hopefully!) avoiding commercial clichés, here is a strategy that will win you the proverbial brownie points from your Valentine, would-be amour and other special people in your life. Yes, as per all of Brighter Thinking, this method can be deployed at home and at work (hopefully for different reasons though!). If you are already known to be full of surprises, this is why it works.
I was inspired to write this when recently recounting my absolute joy, at aged 11, upon returning from my one week school trip to the Isle of Wight, elated at having won Best/Most Tidy Bedroom out of the entire group (thanks to my Bestie’s superior bed making skills which rivalled that of the most experienced hospital staff, as unfortunately duvets had not yet crossed the Solent), I discovered that my family had completely redecorated my bedroom and installed new furniture. The surprise arrival of pets and in my adult life, a romantic treasure hunt across London, produced a similar euphoria.
This is the strategy of the unexpected positive surprise* which my neuroscience studies confirmed is indeed much more fun for the brain than a planned event and definitely an outcome to be aimed for, rather than the unexpected negative surprise (shock!) which creates a greater in magnitude but opposite effect in the brain’s delicate neurochemistry.
Basically, the surprise can be considered an error in the brain’s prediction of what is about to happen next. Inaccuracy in the brain is paid particular attention to because it may have a later role in survival. Something that releases the myriad of feel-good chemicals in the brain enhances this focus and memory creation. Something that creates pain (a threat for the brain) will invoke an even stronger response and memory to be preserved, in order to help you avoid that situation in future.
The nucleus accumbens is involved in the brain’s complex reward circuitry and its activity inspires a new, literal meaning to being “turned on”.
Therefore, help your loved ones to enjoy more of the bigger rewards of unpredictable positive experiences in their brain. I promise that the planning and preparation involved in creating a lovely surprise will be rewarding for your brain too. You will obviously feel good imagining their happiness at receiving the surprise. This is because it still activates dopamine which is involved in seeking: the thinking of a positive reward (whatever your brain considers this to be!) induces an even greater response than ahem, to when it comes to actually having the reward. Perhaps, this explains all sorts of human feelings and behaviour…
I look forward to hearing about your surprises at firstname.lastname@example.org Let’s hope that a special someone does not read this first!
*BTW a more correct scientific expression is “unexpected pleasure” although what neuroscientists consider to incite pleasure in their research subjects is debatable.
Heart 2017, ink on watercolour paper
The stunning heart painting above is by former client and Brighter Thinker, London-based artist, Caroline Banks. See more examples of her amazing creativity and talent here.
Caroline is a featured artist at Saatchi’s The Other Art Fair, Bloomsbury, London from Thurs 30 March – Sun 02 April 2017. For more info & tickets book here.