“Well”, you might be thinking, “this could go either way. Is surprise really a key to happiness?”
And that would be a good point! There are some surprises in life that we all could do without. Those times when your five year old gets carsick 4 times on your “surprise nighttime summer road trip” to Minnesota when you thought you’d be flying but your flights got canceled…. twice. Just as an example. Something like that exact scenario may or may not have happened to me last summer imprinting an unforgettable negative surprise stamp on my brain forever.
The flip side are those beautiful surprises that also happen to all of us when we thought things were going to go one way, but instead they were even better than you ever imagined. Like when I was getting my certificate in positive psychology last year. I’d been through the kinds of programs where you get placed into groups and the people are nice and you do the work and learn and get your certificate and it’s great. But this time, I ended up in a group that to this day continues to be one of the greatest gifts ever. My group includes three other amazing women who are experts in their fields, live around the country, each representing a different decade of life. We bonded so intensely, continue to support each other and learn from each other via phone every other week and are forever friends. They blew my expectations of this certificate program out of the water and made huge difference in my life from the day I met them.
And that’s what it’s all about. Positive surprises are the ones that mess with our expectations in the best possible way. They happen when we think things are going along normally and then they suddenly get better than we could have ever predicted. Some researchers define happiness on those terms: when we’re doing better than we thought we would be.
Our brain is wired to find patterns and predictability from the random information it takes in moment to moment. It’s always looking for how to make sense of the world around us. When something happens that doesn’t fit into that pattern or the predictability our brain has calculated for what’s coming next i.e. a delightful surprise, it registers it as amazing, even impossible! That memory becomes significant and you’re likely to tell everyone you know because it didn’t follow the patterns. Unexpected positive surprises also unlock all kinds of positive states like wonder and curiosity and gratitude and create greater connections with those around you, or those who were a part of surprising you. This is why random acts of kindness are such a big deal. They’re small acts of surprise that throw people’s brains off through kindness 🙂
The Thrive Creative Team is always on the prowl for how to include an element of the unexpected (in a good way) into every experience we design. We love catching people in moments of unexpected delight. Positive surprise is key to our happiness experience methodology.
SURPRISES TO CHECK OUT:
If you’re ever in NYC- there’s an organization that inspires us who’s sole mission is to create surprises for people on a regular basis. Surprise Industries. Check them out here.
An article I like that talks about the link between happiness and surprise from the Washington Post can be found here.
I invite you to post about your greatest surprise (the good kind) on our FB page. Tell us how you’ve been delightfully surprised, or how you’ve delightfully surprised someone else!
Einstein had a lot of things right, but this is especially relevant this month:
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Einstein
Enjoy this month of March, where many of us in the Midwest and Northeast are being delightfully surprised by the re-appearance of green grass and the promise of warm weather and all things Spring.