A friend of mine is an engineer, who, in addition to making and blogging about tasty meals, also often posts about her technological triumphs at work. She uses the term “nerd-boner” to describe that exhilarating feeling one gets when they are able to overcome a technological problem or challenge. As someone who has felt these “natural highs” over both technology-related and psychology-related challenges, I find it interesting how different victories in different domains can trigger the same reliable high feeling. And what exactly is that high feeling anyway?
The Esteemed Dr. Wik E Pedia tells us that Natural Highs are simply “a feeling of high without the use of drugs“. Highs come in different forms depending on the drug used to induce them, from alcohol highs to cocaine highs. Stimulant highs, though, are probably the closest thing we have to the “natural high” state. And biologically, this should come from elevated dopamine activity. Interestingly enough, elevated dopamine has also been linked to that feeling of flexibility we experience when we solve a problem (that “Eureka” moment – where new possibilities open up from the confusion of the problem state).
And perhaps that’s the difference between the “nerd-boners” that my friend describes and regular old chemical highs. The problem solver doesn’t just get a jolt of dopamine, they get a new perspective partially powered by the dopamine rush. It’s having your cake and eating it too, neurologically speaking. Reward facilitates new exploration.