Today is Halloween and millions of people will spend millions of dollars to go to professional haunted houses where they hope to be “scared to death”.
Each year, millions of dollars are spent on Halloween, making it fall just below Christmas as the time of year Americans spend the most money, but why do we like to be scared so much that we’ll pay for it?
There are many different theories on why we like to be scared, but I tend to agree with the theory based on evolutionary psychology.
We all have inherited from our primal ancestors what’s called basic “fight or flight” instincts. When we are faced with a potential deadly situation, we instinctively either prepare to fight for our lives or to run for our lives.
Our ancestors needed this instinct to survive the plethora of dangers they faced on a daily basis, from wild animals to other clans/tribes invading their homes, killing, raping and enslaving them.
Today, most of us don’t live the type of lifestyle that requires daily use of our flight or fight instincts, yet they are still there, in our primal brain and they often need to be massaged.
During the time of flight or fight, our attention becomes more focused, our heart rate increases, breathing quickens, muscle tighten, all in preparation to defend ourselves from or to run away from a threat.
It is stressful, but this same rush of adrenaline, can be experienced when the brain knows there is no real threat and in turn, the brain translates this experience as enjoyable.
Most of us feel the need to scratch the itch of fight or flight our ancestors hard wired into us, yet for most of us, each day is relatively safe and mundane. That’s why many people say that being scared makes them feel alive?
While there are some people that enjoy actually putting themselves in real danger, most people enjoy being scared in relatively safe environments, where everything is in control, but they can still experience a sense that things are out of control, which is what is desired.
So much of what happens in our day to day life is controlled, that every now and then, most people instinctively want to feel a sense that things are out of control and that’s why many people spend money each year not only on haunted houses and scary movies, but on things such as roller coasters.
Halloween, All Hallow’s Eve, gives us a chance to confront and think about our fear of death. The same goes for most things we enjoy scaring ourselves with. We like to approach the edge of death without falling in, and then step back away from it.
One thing that makes humans different from all other animals is that we are aware of our existence and the fact that one day we will stop existing.
Being scared reminds us that we are vulnerable and that life is unpredictable and can change at any moment for the worst. It gives us a rush of adrenaline and makes us feel alive. It allows us to stop taking life for granted and appreciate that we are alive.