I love surprises. I think that they’re the perfect way to add spark to a dull week and make fun memories with friends.

We spend so much of our time going through the motions, struggling with the past and worrying about the future. Surprise is wonderful because it pulls us into the moment and forces us to experience the now.

We know what surprise feels like, but really, what is it?

Surprise is our instant reaction whenever we face something unexpected. It could be as simple as a bee landing on our shoulder or as life-changing as winning the lottery.

science of surprise

According to Tania Luna and Leeann Renninger, authors of the book Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected, surprise unravels in four stages.

1) Freeze: We’re stunned by the unexpected. This often comes with a gasp.

2) Find: We try to figure it out.

3) Shift: The surprise begins to change our perspective because it introduces us to something new.

4) Share: We often feel compelled to tell others about our novel experiences.

Surprise is also one of the seven basic emotions that influences our lives. What makes it special though is that, unlike the others like happiness and sadness, surprise enhances our other emotions so they become more memorable.

The Shocking Benefits of Surprise

Given how typically short-lived the feeling of surprise is, you might not expect it to have much of an effect. However, researchers have discovered some key ways pleasant surprise boosts our well-being.

#1 It boosts memory

You’re more likely to remember a surprising experience than an expected one. Researchers at the University of Madgeburg in Germany discovered that the hippocampus, a part of the brain that helps process and store information, becomes more active when people are faced with shocking information or stimuli compared to the familiar. As a result, your brain remembers more details about things that elicit surprise compared things you expect.

This is why you can recall vivid details about exciting childhood experiences, but sometimes struggle to remember things you did last week.

#2 Pleasant Surprises Make Us Happier

Researchers at Emory University and Baylor College of Medicine discovered that the pleasure centers of our brains are more active when we experience surprising positive moments compared to positive moments that we expect to happen. This is why we tend to feel so much happier when someone gives us a gift at random times of the year than on Christmas or our birthday when we’re expecting presents. It also amplifies unexpected pleasures like compliments from people who rarely give them and sunny weather after weeks of fog and rain.

#3 It Adds Spark to Your Relationships

Studies show that doing novel activities with your partner improves your level of satisfaction in your relationship. When you’ve been with someone for years, it’s easy to fall into daily habits that leave you feeling bored with your relationship. Taking time to surprise your partner by doing new activities together brings back the excitement you felt in the early days of your relationship when everything was new and fun.

How to Add More Surprise to Your Everyday Life

Clearly, surprise is awesome. Here are some super easy ways you can add more of it to your life:

  • Change your routines: Run a different path, take a new route to work, try new recipes or restaurants etc.. Every so often do your everyday things differently so life doesn’t become boring.
  • Take more risks: Try things you’d normally be scared to do like talking to a stranger, volunteering for a challenging project at work, or start pursuing a new goal. It forces you into unpredictable situations that can evoke lots of interesting surprises.
  • Do more fun activities with your friends and/or partner: It can be as simple as reminiscing in your teenage years by going roller skating and eating pizza or as extravagant as getting together to do things like going to big concerts, skiing, etc. Doing novel activities with people allows you experience surprise together and make great memories.


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