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I was once part of a discussion in a group of people talking about their favorite horror movies and books with some disagreement as to which ones were the most frightening. When asked my opinion, I was forced to admit that I did not care for horror in either film or literature and therefore, had no favorite. My lack of interest in the horror genre was puzzling to everyone else.
“Everyone likes horror in some form,” someone said.
“No, everyone does not,” I replied. “I certainly don't.”
The general consensus was that I must be some pathetic scardy cat who couldn't handle being frightened. I found this logic amusing. From my point of view, why would anyone want to be frightened? Fright is a tool for survival, not a form of entertainment. Tools for survival are not meant to be pleasant, they are designed to be a warning system so we don't fall victim to an early and probably horrible death and are thusly, meant to be inherently unpleasant so we refrain from doing whatever triggered them in the first place. The funny thing is that while people understand this about pain, they don't seem to make the same connection with fright. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out with one experience that if you stick your hand in fire it is going to really, really hurt and should therefore be viewed as something not to be repeated. We tend to think of people who want to go ahead and stick their hand in fire as a form of entertainment as pretty serious whack-jobs. There is a name for people who seek pain as a form of pleasure and it isn't the kind of quality you would want to put on your resume or mention to eharmony.com.
Deliberately seeking out ways to be frightened however, does not have the same negative press as seeking out pain. People love to be frightened. They want to be scared. Psychologists tell us that people like being scared by a book or movie or haunted house tour because they know that they are perfectly safe and the experience goes from being truly threatening to being a form of excitement, a way to experience fear as pleasure rather than as an early warning system telling them to get the heck out of the way before they find themselves a meal for a saber toothed tiger or something. Evidently, there are degrees of thrill seeking through fear. There are people who climb Mount Everest, people who do things like jump out of planes or drive really fast, people who seek out amusement park thrills like roller coasters, and on the least daring level, people who go to scary movies, drop their popcorn, and scream at a big screen with their friends. I don't really get this. I get that there are people who have to actually risk life and limb to achieve some kind of thrill and those who can only handle it if they know that they are only risking the possibility of nightmares; what I don't get is why anyone chooses to do any of those things in some kind of quest for pleasure and happiness. For that matter, where is the line drawn between silly and crazy? Just how much do you have to actually risk before you are clinically eight oranges short of a crate?
I have come to the conclusion that my definition of what is thrilling differs vastly from the norm. To me, learning something new is thrilling. Finally figuring out or understanding something with which I have been mentally struggling is thrilling. Acquiring a new skill is thrilling. Overcoming a challenge like fixing something that is broken is thrilling, particularly when I started out having no idea whatsoever how to do it. Creating something is thrilling. Climbing mountains no living creature should be climbing is not thrilling. I once read a book about a guy who climbed K2 and had to walk by the frozen body of his best friend who had died there a year earlier to reach the summit. That seems crazy to me and somewhat creepy, not thrilling. Paying money to go to a theater and watch a movie about some psychopath chasing people around with a chainsaw is not thrilling either to me, just kind of a waste of time.
It is said that the genius Greek mathematician, Archimedes stepped into his bath one day and suddenly understood that the volume of his body created a corresponding displacement of the water in the bathtub, thereby leading to an understanding of density vs volume and weight. Supposedly, this discovery caused him to become so thrilled and excited that he jumped out of his bath and ran around the ancient city of Syracuse stark naked yelling, “Eureka”, at the top of his lungs. Now, that's the kind of thrill I can envy.
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