A Strange Sensory Tandem
Did you know that the same chemical compound that gives the odor to feces is used in production of some of the finest perfumes on the market? And not only that, but you would never think that it's also used in making chocolates. That chemical is called skatole and in all mammals it is a derivative of the amino acid tryptophan.
As we are about to see, this strange tandem of unpleasant stimulus and our neurobiology of reward and pleasure could be found in many more examples. If anything, it definitely points at the fact that at one level our opposite emotions may be much closer than we would suspect.
Laughing or Crying - which one Is It?
Let's start with something very familiar that we hardly ever see as strange. It's the fact that exactly the same stomach muscles and diaphragm are mobilized in both a happy belly laughter and an uncontrollable sobbing. As you know, we can also laugh to tears, while hysterical folks take it to the next level by actually blending laughter with crying, so you can't tell what the heck they actually feel.
It is this network of nerves located at our solar plexus, interestingly called the "second brain" in the Far East and "guts" in this part of the world, which is the energetic provider of our emotions and those "gut feelings". From the laughter and sobbing example we can see that it will cater with the same energy to those completely opposite emotional outlets.
Who Hasn't Seen one Yet?
There is this somewhat pathological although innocent tendency of many folks to obsess with fussing over their nonexistent ailments and conditions, called hypochondriasis. My best definition of a hypochondriac, also mentioned in some of my other articles within different contexts is: someone who only feels good when they feel bad.
Constantly spying on their body and panicking over any apparent irregularity, such folks may be a true definition of a pain in the butt to their families, friends, and co-workers, their doctor, or anyone forced by politeness to listen to their incessant health complaints. What makes it really weird is the fact that they can derive some pleasure out of it.
Pleasure of Self-Tormenting
Somewhat similar are those so called masochists who, with a dark passion torment themselves emotionally, if not physically as well. Reason for that peculiar behavior is usually a deep seated self-hate and self-punishment for an irrational guilt.
It's probably nowhere else so pronounced as in religious fanaticism when followers turn their religious teachings against themselves, for their "impure status of born-sinners". Facing their "filthy urges" with a whole package of an imperfect humanness, they may agonize over an impossible task to redeem themselves in the imaginary eyes of their religious idol or deity.
So, by punishing themselves, quite often with a bad health they get a weird sense of a "divine justice being done" - while enjoying in the process of it. While hypochondriacs enjoy in complaining about their bad health, masochists enjoy in "deserving" it.
Bad News Feeling so Good
One could almost be tempted to call "borderline masochists" all those folks who can't enjoy their morning coffee without reading or watching the news - about all those fresh murders in town, those rapes, arsons, natural disasters, burglaries, court cases, and of course - the political circus.
It's like they need to feel pissed off at somebody or something in order to ignite their energy source for starting the new day. They call it "getting informed", and I call it an unnecessary morning cocktail of adrenaline and cortisol, plus maintenance of a gloomy worldview.
It's truly beyond me why people enjoy tormenting themselves with events over which they have absolutely no control and which are already past. Well, I guess they must be getting some emotional payoff out of it, otherwise they wouldn't be doing it to themselves.
Irritating Entertainment - a Weird Source of Joy
It must be for mentalities like those that so many tear-jerker movies become box-office sensations, which can also explain the big number of seasons of certain TV soap operas. They are feeding the emotional needs of those misery-craving viewers, making them so unhappy that they are enjoying every scene. Now, how is that for weird?
Or, take all those musical hits with sad lyrics. While we are at music, I still don't get it how that "screaming in notes" ever passed for music. I wonder if I am the only one asking myself what all that vocal discharge of agony and pain, oftentimes downright hysterical sounds like an artistic musical expression.
I don't think it's a matter of "taste", it's more like a symptom of a cultural ailment called "anything goes". What kind of a "primal scream" therapy is going on facilitated by that noise and stimulating an energy explosion in solar plexus or a few inches below? Well, I don't know, and I am not even sure if I want to know, it's just plain silly, and it wouldn't be all that if people did not also find some enjoyment in it.
If Not Painful - Why Those Faces?
As we further look into these strange examples of expressions suggesting both pain and pleasure, how could we miss the fact that our facial expressions during love making are those of pain, not pleasure. Indeed, it's more like noticing your mother-in-law at the doorstep than like a blissful expression of the strongest pleasure in existence.
What a bunch of dirty tricks can our nature play on us. If we didn't know better, we would be pausing every once in a while to make sure that our partner is O.K. Something similar we could witness by watching some of those passionate violin or piano performers, some of them with faces like any moment they might burst into tears.
While we are at performers, what about those who literally cry when they get a standing ovation, or they receive an award like Oscar. How does that happiness translate into crying?
A Workout? Not Me
If you are a jogger or you otherwise enjoy exerting your body in some sport or hobby like climbing, swimming, or workout, then you are familiar with that dopamine rush you feel as sweat is pouring down your face and every muscle is being pushed to its limits.
I have experienced it a few times, but not on a regular basis. Generally I may do some walking but that's how far I'll go. I am totally with that guy who once said: "The only exercise I do is walking on funerals of friends who exercised a lot".
Of course, to each their own, but for my dopamine high - or is it in my case another neurotransmitter like serotonin, endorphin, or GABA - I may do something like listening to some fine classical music, or pop music of my young years. In some moods I prefer those pieces in minor key and then they feed my feeling sentimental, nostalgic, but that's how far my mix of pleasure and pain will go.
Not Easy to Explain It - but Amusing just the Same
It is my sheer speculation that our nervous system is programmed to reserve strong emotional outlets only for negative experiencing. When we feel something exceptionally pleasurable, there is no adequate outlet for it available, so we can only "borrow" from those negative outlets - meaning expressions of pain.
I can't think of anything else that would be of a pure psychological nature, because we definitely don't associate good feelings with lousy ones - except in those mentioned cases of masochism and hypochondriasis.
And yet, no matter how we choose to look at this phenomenon, it certainly is one of those weird aspects of being human, like yawning being contagious and stuff. I hope that you got entertained by this article as much as I did writing it.