Why Exploring the Unknown Will Make You a Happier Person

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In Mermaids, Cher said: “Life is change.  Death is: dwelling on the past or staying in one place too long.”

My Mom tells me I’m “a California girl from head to toe,” and from my fin scars to my compulsive Surfline checking, she’s got a case.  Still, lately, my gut tells me it might be time to cast off from the land of french-fry stuffed burritos, microbrews, and trainer-killing Free Willys.  The million dollar question is: if I hoist anchor from the Whale’s V, will I die a mermaid death?

Am I going to end up like Darryl Hannah in Splash?  Sand dollars are my jam.  Surfing is my lifeblood, especially in September, when the days are long, the water is warm, and the waves are gnarly, brah.  I’d miss sunset sessions and dawn patrols, the smell of sunscreen and dried salt on my skin.

So, yes, I’d miss surfing, my family, seashells, lifeguard towers, and salty sea breezes, and I’m kind’ve talking myself out of the whole idea now.  But part of being happy is being aware of our patterns, and choosing to take a different path. Oftentimes we stay with the familiar because we’re afraid of change, but when we grow weary of certainty and sameness, we question our motives for daring to try something new.

Happiness is red-hot right now, but it wasn’t always.  Until recently, psychologists were more interested in what made people depressed, not what made them happy.  So happiness science is just taking it’s first steps, and it’s like wildfire.  Everyone and their Mom is writing about happiness, and all of the books I’ve read make sense.  Some of the theories compete with another.

That said.  Some themes resurface over and over again, one of which says: in embracing uncertainty, we grow in ways we never imagined possible.  Boredom is psychologically unhealthy, and we tend to think we must have a reason for doing something.  That’s not true.  We come alive when we do things just because we want to do them.

A photographer with LOCALE and I shared a heart to heart today.  After a photo shoot/interview, we sat on the curb outside and confessed our refreshingly honest stories.  She is 15 years older than I, and far more successful (owns her own studio, photographer to the stars, etc.), and she’s the first of my artistic Obi-Wans to this Luke Skywalker.  She proffered tips and pointers about using the Creative Force.

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“I received an intuitive call to become a photographer,” she said, “Do you understand what I mean?”  I did.  The most noble instructions for our lives are whispered in hunches, intuitions, and coincidence.

If we could scoop the best of our lives up in a spoon, our favorite moments would float in there as a mixture of glamorous and ordinary.  The “I’m in love with you’s” and family Christmases, with the Eiffel Tower views and Moon Parties in Thailand.  At different points in our lives, we’ll experience the wonderful personal upheaval of not having a plan, like studying abroad, but we’ll also float along more quietly (and hopefully happily) at 9 to 5’s.  As long as we’re making selective efforts to try new things, even if that just means signing up for a kickball league or eating at an Ethiopian restaurant, we’re doing great.

We’re all just trying to do the best we can.  Fear of change and impermanence is written into our DNA, and much of our time is used up in an attempt to control those realities.  But the stasis of our lives is not knowing, and Forrest was dead-on when he said, “Life is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re going to get.”  A young and dashing Mr. Hanks meant our lives are supposed to be scary, thrilling adventures, or they’re meant to be nothing.  A collection of millions of minutes stretch-marked, circuitous, and chalk-full of bungee jumps rather than photoshopped, blueprinted, and treadmilled.

So whether I’m in beautiful St. James or a flat in Paris working for an ex pat newspaper, cultivating new experiences, spontaneity, and fresh opportunities is something I’m committing to.  I’ll say yes, and figure it out later, like Tina Fey, because I feel most alive when I don’t know what’s going to happen.  And maybe the first prayer we say when we open eyes, isn’t “Help me earn more money” or “Find me the right guy.”  But rather it’s: help me live my life in an ever-braver way.  Help me to be a million people who do a million things.  Help me to taste life slowly, with an adventurous and curious palate, as something who’s willing to try anything once.

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8 thoughts on “Why Exploring the Unknown Will Make You a Happier Person

  1. Not necessarily a braver way, but more in a way that matches what you want.
    If that means you have to be braver, then that’s fine.
    If you get a thrill out of being a shop girl and love doing the inventory once a month, do that.

    But whatever you do, don’t skip (or do) the things you’ll regret later – not from a “oh, I shouldn’t have skied that trail and broke my ankle” perspective, but a “why didn’t I try/ask/go…” Some opportunities come around again. Many others don’t.
    And keep collecting Obiwans, no matter how old you get.
    If you’re lucky, one day you’ll get to be an obiwan for someone else. It feels good.

    Holy crap, I’m wordy today.

    • Haha, love it! Especially these parts: “But whatever you do, don’t skip (or do) the things you’ll regret later,” and the thought of being somebody else’s Obi-Wan. Hadn’t even thought about that yet…

  2. A very profound article there, Natalie. Inspiring. For me, the last three sentences are to be deemed notable and quotable.

  3. I have a business card taped face up on my dashboard and on the back I have written “Courage”. When I feel the need, I flip it up and it get a feeling that if I can act with courage, then it becomes me.

  4. One of my favorite movies is “Yes Man” with Jim Carrey. It is about seizing opportunities as they come your way and saying YES to life. This is how I want to live, by saying YES! It always seems to be the things I don’t do that I regret the most. Thank you for an insightful post!!

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