I wasn’t in a bad mood before it came on, but still, the song was working its magic – as music often does – activating the happy particles of my biological chemistry. There are things that do that, I think, things that touch us on an unconscious level, perform a bit of molecular magic and leave us happier than we were before.
They tickle our amygdalas.
When my oldest son was acting, one of his directors told him about the amygdala, an almond-shaped bundle of nuclei located in each temple. The amygdala is responsible for a number of brainy activities, but one of the things it does is “stimulate the neo cortex, the part of your brain that becomes extremely active during deep meditation, ecstasy, nirvana, transcendence and all of your higher functions, emotions and peak experiences.” Good thing to stimulate, right?
So the director taught him how to tickle his amygdala. “Close your eyes,” he said, “and picture, in your temples, friendly, happy, fuzzy, buzzing bees. Cute bees. Bees with cartoony smiles and no stingers. Picture them nestled up against your amygdala, buzzing away.” Or he suggested picturing all the planets in the universe aligning, and then imagining that the force that aligns them shoots down to earth and pulses through you; in an instant, you and the universe are perfectly in sync.
Don’t worry. Stay with me. I’ll get back to the Goo Goo Dolls, I promise. The way you know that you have, in fact, tickled your amygdala, he said, is that you will smile, or laugh, or just feel inexplicably good.
I confess that I could never make this work. I tried, and I usually did feel good, but mostly because laughing at myself is a fortifying activity. Eventually, I modified the theory. I decided that there are things – real things – that make me inexplicably happy and that these things are, in fact, tickling my amygdala; the Counting Crows, for instance, Morgan Freeman’s voice, the smell of rain, Ira Glass. I like the idea of these things that are neither inherently good nor bad, happy nor sad, sort of sneaking up on me, affecting me positively, physically, beyond conscious thought. For a little while, they lift me up. Make me lighter.
So, of course you know where this is going … tell me what tickles your amygdala. I really want to know! And if you try to tickle your amygdala with bees, let me know what happens!
Oh, yeah. The Goo Goo dolls. That was a Twitter mistype. It was the Counting Crows I should have been tweeting about (though the Goo Goo Dolls had been singing Iris just prior… and that song does nice things to my amygdala too).