I know a wife whose husband gave her an unexpected present of a nightdress from Mothercare* for Christmas. This was understandably met with derision from the recipient, as the gift completely missed the mark. Meanwhile, at the end of Michael McIntyre’s live comedy night earlier this week, the surprise guest (Jamie Cullen) brought the house down, impressing all of us in the audience. Perhaps, we also did not anticipate him to be that good?

Both of these events feature elements of surprise, however one was considered unpleasant and the other deemed good. The difference that this has in the brain is remarkable. Basically, when we experience a positive situation, levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine rise in the brain and if we were completely not expecting it, they rise even further. However, the converse is true: if we experience a bad surprise, our dopamine falls much, much further, than if we had been already expecting the negative situation.

This is obviously useful to have in mind for gift buying however, what about arousing the pleasure centres in the brain with other positive unpredictable events this festive season – and next year! Whilst you may now be thinking of all sorts of things now (!), this can be applied in all areas of life e.g. receiving an unexpected bonus at work, giving unforeseen praise to your team, a telephone call to a friend / loved one out of the blue, even walking into the kitchen to discover it magically cleaned up on Boxing Day! As long as it will be considered good by the recipient, success is guaranteed.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a fabulous New Year full of happy surprises!