The Tragedy of Modern Life
The tragedy of modern life is that, despite being wealthy in so many ways, most people feel unfulfilled at some level. Objectively, we’ve never had it so good; yet so many of us feel like something is missing in our lives. We have jobs that we just about tolerate, patchy relationships and failed marriages, and we console ourselves with the unprecedented glut of entertainment available to distract us from the fact our lives don’t seem to mean quite as much as we once hoped.
It does not have to be that way. When we were kids, a week seemed to last forever. There was so much we were exposed to that was new. Every day was another adventure, full of mysteries, discoveries and fun. But as adults the time seems to pass by more quickly. The days tick by, and whole weeks pass at a time. Pretty soon we are looking back over a year or more, glumly realising that not much changed. We half heartedly set the same resolutions we failed to dent the previous year. Or we reign in our ambitions and convince ourselves that our lives are not so bad.
Then every once in a while you do something that makes you feel alive. It might be the warm sun, or the wind in your hair, or something fun you do with a friend. It might be while you are on holiday, or during a night out. It might be something you set out to do, or it might be a happy accident. But every now and then you find yourself feeling alive.
It’s All About Those Moments When You Feel Alive
Here’s the thing: Not all moments are created equal. An experience which makes you feel alive is worth many times more than an equivalent period spent numb in autopilot mode.
We know that instinctively. When you look back at all the moments in your life so far that have meant something, that make you smile to remember, you do not think of the thousands of times you brushed your teeth. You think of the peak experiences. The ones that made you feel joy, passion, excitement.
I call those adventures. And the trick to a fulfilling life is having more of them.
(See my novel, ‘The Dare Ring’ by Titus Powell for an entertainingly extreme fictional example of this.)
The Human Drives That Stop Us Feeling Alive
But why are so many of us unfulfilled in the first place? Since we all want to feel happy, why are so many of us stuck in a rut? The answer is because of two basic human tendencies: (1) the tendency to develop routines, and (2) the tendency to avoid the unknown. By recognising these, we gain control over them.
The ability to form routines is a vital behavior and frees up our resources to do other things. It is incredibly efficient to form a pattern for brushing our teeth so that we do not need to waste mental energy figuring it out every day. The same with tying our shoelaces and a thousand other things we do every day. If we did not have routines, we would not be able to function in the world. So routines are not the problem; the problem is when we let too much of our lives become routine. The drive to reduce everything to a routine will make every day identical and boring if we let it.
The other human tendency is our avoidance of the unknown. Sticking to what is familiar is undoubtedly a safer strategy – or was in caveman days – so over the millennia we have evolved a wariness of things and activities that are different. By doing what we know will not kill us, over and over again, we stand a good chance of living a long, if somewhat empty life.
But if you think of the times you felt most alive, they are never part of a routine, and they always involve some degree of the unknown. Your marriage day, the dream holiday, the birth of a child – all involve something new happening, a break from your usual routines.
And right there is the key to having more such experiences – more joy, more excitement, more fun, more adventure. You need to recognise your tendency to avoid the unknown and to fall into routines. And then you need to do something different.
Break the Routine and Embrace the Unknown
You do not have to throw out the routines; that would be counter-productive. But you can achieve a lot by taking breaks from them.
This is hardly a novel concept. People take holidays as often as they can, specifically to break the routine of work. But our lives fill with more subtle habits and routines that we never think to question. We come home the same way every day. But what if every now and then, instead of driving, you took the bus? What if instead of taking the bus, you took the train? What if instead of taking the train, you took the ferry or skated or walked? You might remember it more. And perhaps you might even have an adventure along the way.
What other habits could you temporarily break? Who could you spend time with that you normally do not? What places could you go to? What activities could you do?
If you had to do something differently tomorrow to make it memorable and fun… what could that be?
Adventure Lifestyle is an attitude. It is a mindset that the unknown is not something to be feared, but a place of opportunity. It is the resolution that feeling alive is more important than just about anything else. It is the overriding desire to get to old age with a long list of happy adventures to look back on and feel good about.
This is not about being young or sporty. You can feel alive without ever setting foot on a snowboard. Adventure is entirely relative to what you are used to. For one person, signing up to salsa lessons might be a major leap into the unknown, and appropriately rewarding as a result. Another person might be a regular skydiver, and find that easy, but a more exciting challenge might be talking to an attractive stranger. Another person might find it easy to be the life of the party but have an inability to hold down a job, so could look for ways to act differently in that area.
Whatever is different and ever so slightly scary, is what will be the most fulfilling for you to do.
I invite you to try it for one day. Approach everything tomorrow with the mindset that you have an Adventure Lifestyle. Every chance you have to do something in a different way, try it. Keep looking for opportunities for adventure all through the day. Challenge yourself to step into the unknown. Not an enormous terrifying leap into the unknown, but lots of little steps. Wake up with the intention to make tomorrow memorable, and find ways to do it all day long until you are lying in bed that night smiling to yourself.
You will find it is both easy to do and much more fulfilling than the forgettable day it would have otherwise been.
Then of course you will start to realise that every day can be one full of adventure and possibility. All it takes is a willingness to move towards the unknown rather than away from it. But you don’t need to think about that now.
Just try it!