I hate surprises. I’m a generally anxious person—I like to know what’s going to happen, be in control, and I love my comfort [zone; food; -able bed]. But I also need to learn how to surprise myself and others.
Surprise, argue Tania Luna and LeAnn Renninger PhD in their book Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected, brings vitality into our lives, helping us to connect with those around us, grow as individuals and appreciate our own vulnerabilities.
- release dopamine (unsurprisingly)
- engage our curiosity and sense of wonder
- change our perspectives
- give us stories to share that can “refuel” us
- nurture stronger relationships
- help us reframe negative experiences positively
Ultimately, being open to uncertainty and surprise prepares us to handle those negative surprises we just can’t avoid. It’s quite the list—one that makes me rethink my attitude towards surprises.
Advice for the planners in your life (and you)
Striking a balance between the comfort that “knowing” affords, and the vitality that surprises can bring is no easy task.
Surprises create a mental burden—we just don’t like changing our plans, our expectations or our minds. But understanding the role surprises can play in our life, it’s a necessary question to ask yourself: when are you willing to be surprised, to go with the flow, to walk into a situation without googling away the surprises that the situation might bring?
It’s easy to check everything from the weather, to the menu at a given restaurant, to any of the minute details of our life’s episodes, that we often miss out on experiencing the unexpected vigor and excitement of so many of those experiences.
When we go about life in this careful, calculated manner, we miss out on the beauty, serendipity and vitality of surprise.
How to surprise yourself and others, safely
Of course, I’m still an anxious person. Not all surprises are created equal. We need to practice “safe surprise.”
Let’s agree, we will NOT simply spring more or larger surprises on our unsuspecting loved ones—let’s start small and gently invite more surprises into our own lives.
Tania and LeAnn offer advice on how to surprise yourself or open yourself up to surprise:
- Take steps to be more vulnerable (or open). Share things about yourself you might be uncomfortable to share. Vulnerability is endearing and can forge stronger relationships.
- Practice engaging in activities where you don’t know how things will turn out.
- Before taking a big risk, take smaller risks likely to go well, so that you learn to associate risk-taking with positive outcomes.
- Simply be more curious about your surroundings—learn something new, or ask a question of a stranger.
- Mix up your routine. Try a new activity or restaurant.
- Delight others with small, unexpected gifts. Under-promise and over deliver.
Tania and LeAnn’s advice provides us practical steps we can take to get a little more joy and vitality out of every day. It also gives us clues on how to surprise our loved ones, properly. We don’t need to spring major commitments or events on anyone without their knowledge—we can simply mix up our routines, try something new together or give them simple gifts without an occasion.
Note, the mental burden of surprises lessens when we experience surprises with others. Surprises we experience with others are also more likely to be memorable and, of course, strengthen our relationships.
Be pleasantly surprised with the E.A.T. Foundation
Our foodie fund-raising events are a perfect opportunity to mix up your routine, take small risks, learn something new, and share in pleasant surprises with others. You might not consider yourself a foodie, but that only makes this a better opportunity to engage with a new community, learn new things, and enjoy pleasant surprises!
To hear about our events when they are announced, subscribe to receive our emails. It’s a simple way to support the E.A.T. Foundation’s mission, and we like to think our emails are their own pleasant surprises in your inbox.
Kurt Jensen & Zach McElgunn