Rozin's studies go well beyond the pleasures of the disgusting, to the joy of the downright painful. Take hot chili peppers ...
"Well, hot chili peppers are eaten by over two billion people in the world," Rozin said. "And yet, this is an innately negative experience. Little babies don't like it. So, the question to me was, why would anybody put in their mouth something that produces a pain signal from the mouth to the brain?"
His answer? What he calls "benign masochism" -- the same human quirk that explains why we enjoy horror movies that terrify us ... why we like sad songs that make us cry.
"It's a sense of your mind over your body," Rozin said. "Your body is saying, 'Bad news, get out of here!' Your mind knows, 'I'm actually not in danger. I'm mastering this negative experience, and my mastery of it gives me pleasure.' "
But there are limits. Just ask those chili pepper people ...
"What happens is, the one that people like best tends to be the one that's just below the level they can't bear," Rozin laughed. "In other words, they're pushing the limit of how hot they can stand it. Similarly with roller coasters. People who love roller coasters will like the steepest and scariest one they can stand."
Push your pleasure to that limit and -- odd as it seems -- odds are you'll want more. So what's the best strategy to maximize life's pleasures?
Emory Professor Gregory Berns did an experiment that offers a clue: When he gave subjects alternating drops of water and juice, their brain activity showed they preferred the juice. No surprise. But when the juice came at unexpected intervals and was a surprise, they liked it even more.
His advice: Surprise yourself.
"You have to take risks, I think, to really experience pleasure," Dr. Berns said. "There's a reason why people say the first time is always the best. The first time you experience something, whether it's your first kiss, your first bite of sushi, whatever you like, it's always the best."
So whether it's Clooney's sweater ... roller coasters ... chili peppers ... or something else entirely ("Chocolate" ... "good friends, good beer" ...), treasure those pleasures.
But remember: There's always room for something new -- and people keep pushing the envelope, like bungee jumping.
"Yeah, why not?" said Dr. Berns.
For more info:
- "How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like" by Paul Bloom (W.W. Norton)
- Gregory Berns, Economics Department, Emory University
- Magnolia Bakery