Axios Finish Line

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  • Smart Brevity™ count: 313 words ... 1½ mins.

1 big thing: How surprises delight us

Illustration of an animated ghost emoji, transitioning from a serious face to a smile, sticking its tongue out, and sunglasses lowering over its eyes.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

One of the most powerful, yet least explored, emotions is ... surprise.

Stunning stat: Surprises supercharge our emotions up to 400%, WNYC's "The Takeaway" reports:

  • "If we're surprised with something positive, we'll feel more intense feelings of happiness or joy than we normally would have, absent the surprise."

How it works: When we're surprised, we freeze for a moment. But then our brains start working hard to figure out what just happened. That process helps keep our brains sharp, "The Takeaway" notes.

  • We're also likelier to remember the surprising events in our lives the best.

🎮 Case in point: We see it a lot in video games, Axios' Herb Scribner tells Finish Line.

  • Games offer small rewards, which give us dopamine hits and keep us coming back, the neuroscience blog Pop Neuro notes.
  • And it applies to real life: You're more likely to remember the shop that gave you a free slice of pizza once ... than the place that never did.

The bottom line: Surprise the people you love. It's good for them — and it's just plain fun.

📬 A tale of two brothers...

...from Finish Line reader Jason G. in Cranbury, N.J.

"My little brother Ryan and I are 15 months apart. He was the popular athlete; I was the complete opposite."

  • "We were never close growing up, charting our own paths in separate directions. I eventually left South Carolina, while he remained. After a few years of not even talking, the death of our grandmother took me back to South Carolina and resulted in a long, heartfelt conversation in Ryan's carport."
  • "That night things changed. We've since grown to be the best of friends. Now, in our 40s, we've started an annual tradition of traveling to see a concert together — particularly the band Widespread Panic!"