You feel excitement when something very nice is about to happen. For example, when you are about to see a good friend who just returned from a year abroad, when you just received the keys for your new car, or when you are waiting in line for a thrilling rollercoaster ride. In each case, you are experiencing eagerness and impatience in expectation of the upcoming pleasant experience.
Excitement is more likely when the anticipated experience is both novel or unique and desirable. It is especially intense if you have been waiting for a long time to obtain the goal, or when excitement is shared with other people and the event makes you feel like you are part of something bigger.
Expectations play a key role in excitement. On the one hand, you need to be certain that the upcoming event will happen – otherwise you would feel hope instead. Secondly, you need to be certain that the event will be somehow pleasant and arousing. But beyond that, a degree of uncertainty will often actually increase excitement. For instance, while waiting in line you are certain that the rollercoaster ride will be a lot of fun, but not knowing how it will exactly play out leaves more room for daydreaming and hypothesizing. This is most evident in novels, movies, and other types of storytelling. Knowing too much about what will happen in advance – spoilers – may ruin the experience.
You experience excitement as high arousal, accompanied by the feeling of ‘butterflies in your stomach’, trembling, or sweaty palms. Your increased heart rate, breathing and perspiration prepare you for physical action. These jittery bodily feelings are somewhat atypical for a positive emotion, and more akin to negative emotions like fear or nervousness, with the difference that you experience them as positive.
The evolutionary function of excitement may be to promote exploratory behavior. It causes you to focus your attention on something good that will in the future, so you don’t miss the opportunity. Another function of excitement may be to shift your focus from potential risks to the potential benefits of anticipated events, leading to more impulsive or risk-taking behavior. Evolutionary, people in many cases may have benefitted from playing it safe, but in the face of high potential rewards, it can be very beneficial to take more risks.
Excitement has received notable attention from the fields of marketing and retail because it is believed to lead to more impulse buying. Advertising, campaigns, and the design of stores try to evoke excitement about products in different ways. For example, an ad unveiling a new car may use a combination of beautiful images and a sense of mystery to excite viewers.