Thursday 23 November 2017

Happiness: On the hoof -- My week spent living life spontaneously

Library Image. Getty Images
Library Image. Getty Images

Heidi Scrimgeour

Modern life doesn't allow much room for spontaneity. We're time-bound and pressure-driven, and many of us live according to hectic schedules and tight deadlines.

A new book by the leader of one of the largest Buddhist communities in the world asserts that spontaneity can bring us happiness, and even spiritual enlightenment.

In Everyday Enlightenment: Walking the Path to Happiness in the Modern World, His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa writes: "In the day to day it is easy to rush along without taking the time to appreciate just how precious our life is. We run towards some future hope or dream, or away from things in our past . . . we forget to enjoy the journey."

Is spontaneity the antidote? I decided to put the theory to the test. For one week I would give in to as many unplanned, off-the-cuff impulses as possible. But it quickly dawned on me that my plan was flawed. Strangely, nothing seems to extinguish the flame of spontaneity quicker than striving to be more spontaneous.

My experiment begins when an old friend springs to mind and I get a spur-of-the-moment urge to call her. But she's probably at work or in the car, or busy with the kids. I take the coward's route and send a text. "I'm writing a feature about spontaneity and happiness, so this is just to say I miss you and think you're amazing."

My friend texts back immediately. "That's brightened my day! January blues kind of day here so thank you, honey. Love you too."

That sounds surprisingly like a smattering of enlightenment to me. Emboldened, I resolve to commit braver acts of spontaneity.

While shopping I spot a board game that my son would love for his birthday, but with a recommended age of eight I suspect it would be a source of endless frustration for my boys, aged five and six. That, along with the eye-watering €30 price tag, persuades me not to part with any cash. But I can hear spontaneity tutting, loudly.

I bend down to take a closer look and notice a 50pc off sticker on the item. That seals the deal.

But after this I struggle. Friends and family become suspicious of the authenticity of my gestures, and every act of spontaneity seems either too calculated or too frivolous.

I contemplate booking a flight to Paris, but feel I'm missing the true spirit of spontaneity. It shouldn't be synonymous with spending.

Four years ago I wrote a novel but fear of failure leaves it languishing on my hard drive, gathering virtual dust. But in the spirit of spontaneity I seize the day and resolve to send my manuscript to an agent by the time I file this feature.

For the first time the possibility of rejection doesn't scare me.

My kids are effortlessly spontaneous and convinced they could teach me a thing or two, so I ask what they fancy doing tomorrow afternoon: we go horse riding. Five minutes later we've booked the horse-riding lesson we've been putting off for ages.

Once in the saddle I am rigid with terror, but an hour later we're all glowing with delight, and my children deem this to have been the best day of their lives.

Practising spontaneity has shown me that I put off far too many things until some imaginary tomorrow -- which might never come. And that's seriously enlightening.

5 steps to happiness

1 Say yes more often. Try accepting every social invite without performing a mental risk assessment first.

2 If you’re unsure whether you’re being spontaneous or just impulsive, ask whether your actions are likely to make you or others happy. If yes, it’s probably spontaneity.

3 Try something new. Habit can hamper spontaneity. Order something completely different when out to eat.

4 Try creative spontaneity — write, dance, paint, draw or sculpt just for fun. 5 Talk to a stranger.

Irish Independent

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