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For a More Satisfying Life Pay Attention to Pleasant Surprises


Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised.

A recent pleasant surprise for me was sitting on the lounge, looking out the door at the shadow and light on the driveway, enjoying the warm weather (it is summer here in Aus), when a cool breeze came in the door. It was just delightful.

This was only a little thing. Sometimes the good surprises are bigger and more important.

  • Being bowled over by falling in love
  • Finding the art or craft that lets us express what we have been wanting to
  • Discovering a poem or other work that expresses exactly what we would have if we had known that this was what we wanted to express


Knowing More Than You Know
All these pleasant surprises match some kind of need or desire that we have.

Sometimes though, we didn’t know that we had these needs or desires.

  • We can be surprised by who we fall in love with
  • We may not have known what we wanted to express until we found the way to express it
  • Some art works put into form longings that we didn’t know we had until we encounter the art work


Self Development Can Be Biased to Being Deliberate
Self development tends to value intentionality – knowing what we want and setting about achieving it in a known way.

And I agree with this. The first stage in my process of living a satisfying life is becoming aware of a need or desire. And then finding the satisfaction of this need or desire. Just hoping that things will work out isn’t what I recommend. Our awareness, consciousness, planning and deliberate action are all important and valuable.

And this approach to self development can leave out spontaneity. This approach doesn’t have a lot of room or give much credit to those pleasant surprises that come along.


The Significance of a Pleasant Surprise
Those pleasant surprises let you know that there is more to you than your conscious awareness at a particular time.

The surprise is because what happens links up with a need or desire you aren’t aware of for that moment.

  • I didn’t know that I was longing for a cooling breeze
  • I certainly didn’t have any idea who I would fall in love with
  • I often find (at least aspects of) what I want to say in my writing. Occasionally I find that I don’t want to say what I thought I did.


The Value of a Pleasant Surprise
The value of being pleasantly surprised, apart from the pleasure, is that it tells you something about your needs and desires. Something that you weren’t consciously aware of.

Paying attention to what you are surprised by will tell you about your needs and desires. Perhaps a little, perhaps a lot. Something that is very surprising and that you find difficult to understand lets you know that something important is going on.

  • Who you fall in love with says a lot about you
  • Finding your art or craft can unleash a torrent of creativity
  • Being offered an opportunity for work can release hopes you didn’t know you had

Being pleasantly surprised is very informative.


“But You Can’t Plan A Surprise”
Planning can only be based on what you are aware of. You can’t plan on being surprised.


What to do?
1. One thing is to leave some play in your goals and timetables. Schedule in free time, not just for the usual things that will go wrong, but also for unexpected opportunities and surprises.

Another is to be willing to change course. Being conscious, deliberate and intentional is invaluable and irreplaceable – and can lead to tunnel vision. Choosing to pursue one path means excluding others and saying ‘no’; it is also good if you are offered a better way to do what you want to do, or get where you want to go. Pausing for a few seconds consideration is usually a small cost and can have big benefits. If you like timetables it may be helpful to schedule a specific time to do this kind of reflection.

What comes to you spontaneously (without your deliberate choice) is valuable. Pleasant surprises are a delightful and valuable part of life. Paying attention to them will help you know your needs and desires – so that you can live a more satisfying life.

Take a moment to reflect and see if you have had a pleasant surprise this week. If you would like to share it in the comments that would be great too.

I'm Evan Hadkins. To find out how to live a more satisfying life you can download my manifesto on living authentically. It is a book of exercises to guide you to finding, nourishing and living from the core of who you are.

If you would like me to write about some aspect of living an authentic life please don't hesitate to get in touch. There is a box in the sidebar where you can leave a question anonymously if you wish, or you can email me, use the contact page, or comment on this post.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Mary 2013/02/10, 2:34 pm

    My surprise came in the form of a change in my first plan, which was to walk on the dike today and get refreshed after working hard. Instead I just felt more like staying home and being here so my kids could feel and see me, and I could walk on the ground at home. Sometimes that does wonders for my family– outside work in the yard.
    I set about to build a bonfire. I’ve done it before and had lots of fragments from the forest to work with and drag up. But one never knows with the building of a fire. The only dry material was the boxes we had saved from the prior weeks. No kindling, nothing easy.
    I have taken to the building of bonfires as the building of a relationship. Each time I have learned something new about my attitude towards it, what it needs, at what time, where it needs attention, how much air, how it grows, how it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t, understanding what went wrong. The last time I learned about faith– that sometimes you just have to have faith– no food, just faith. This time I learned the sweetness of not giving up, being intentionally thorough. Tending to it for as long as needed because it needed my air. So I did. It was as if this fire was the only thing that existed– the flame, my air, and this relationship.
    And to my utter and beautiful surprise, it did not go out. In fact, I’d say it’s the most beautiful fire I’ve ever built. That fire grew with me simply because I stayed and did not give up. I gave willingly and without doubt.
    Satisfying? You betcha. Feeling this satisfaction is like my soul dancing in the breeze.

  • Evan 2013/02/10, 4:19 pm

    Thanks Mary. That is beautifully told and I’m so glad that you learned so much from it.

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