Surprise! The unexpected is good for us

Without surprises, our lives are "lifeless"

21 Jul Surprise! The unexpected is good for us

(This article ran in the Kelowna Daily Courier. To access the digital copy, click here.)

Maybe you love a good shocker; maybe you hate it, but get ready for it—author Tania Luna suggests the old element of surprise might newly invigorate your life. In a world where up to the minute information is available at our fingertips, we “Google away delight by previewing our experiences before we have them,” the self-proclaimed surprisologist says.

Along with co-author, PhD LeeAnn Renninger, she’s written a book. Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected, promises to restore a sense of wonder to our often over-planned lives.

Luna acknowledges we have a love-hate relationship with surprise because it is intriguing and exciting, yet rampant with risk and danger.

If we aren’t fans of surprise, she told, we are probably prone to a high need for certainty, have had negative surprises in our pasts, are already experiencing a lot of change in our lives, or have learned to use control and planning as coping mechanisms in times of stress and anxiety.

In other words we like to be in the driver’s seat.  And what’s wrong with that?

Luna asserts that without the surprise element, our lives are—well, lifeless. “Without surprise we’ll always feel that something is missing, often without being able to put a finger on it.”

We Google the weather so as to plan the wardrobe, check out the menu before we sit down at the restaurant, read reviews and formulate opinions before seeing the play, admire our luxury room before stepping foot in the resort—all of which sounds like solid planning. Yet our world is full of constant change and by inviting small surprises into our daily lives, we better prepare ourselves to handle the change and uncertainty that comes from more innovation, threats, and opportunities than ever before.

Personally I love to hit refresh and I embrace the excitement of the unknown. One of the things I most love about my husband is his flair for spontaneity. Sudden plans are often sprung upon me and I happily go with them—most of the time.

The year was 1997. Our daughter was less than three weeks old when my husband threw a surprise birthday party for me that was (surprise!) not so happy.

With my mom-in-law visiting from the Kootenays, my sister-in-law from Edmonton, and my dad from Victoria, I thought the bounty of babysitters might mean dinner out for me, but in fact signaled a sufficient number of loved ones gathered in one place for a (surprise!) party.

I was puzzled by the fury with which my husband ran around the house barking cleaning orders, before running behind the lawn mower, beautifying the yard. Meanwhile I was told time was running out for me to get to my massage. The fact a pampering session had been booked in my honor was welcomed with exhausted-mommy delight, but why did I have to “get ready?” How good do you have to look when you’re about to lay facedown in a donut? Guaranteed you’re coming out of there with lines engraved on your mascara-streaked face. Best not to wear any make up, and easy attire, like one of your maternity dresses.

Post massage I was relaxed and ready to head home, but my dad (who was charged with delivering me to the spa) decided next he needed to get me to the mall. Wouldn’t I like a new top or something? By then I wanted a nap. Two hours, a latte, and no top later, we arrived back home to an eerily quiet house until I was told to go outside to the deck where 50 family and friends were decked out.

“Surprise!” They yelled, while the camera rolled.

People told me they had a great time. I wouldn’t know. I spent half the night holed-up in our bedroom nursing my daughter and the other half running around looking for clean glassware.

No one will ever look at the video that captured my sheer shock, not while I’m alive. No make-up, nursing bra paired with probably dirty, definitely stretched out, maternity dress, and God knows what was going on with my hair.

Surprises are good for our brains because they create new neural pathways and they’re good for our relationships because they create fun and rekindle sparks. But bare in mind, they’re not always good for everyone. People who suffer from social anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders do not do well with the stress that can come from surprises—ditto for mothers of newborn babies.

Luna suggests we cultivate healthy surprise in our lives by visiting new places without looking them up. Same for meeting new people—resist the urge to check them out on Facebook first. Schedule a standing date for new experiences like classes to take or events to attend and books to read that are out of your comfort zone. Plant surprises for others. Sticky notes in hidden places are one of her favorites.

Not to be daunted, my husband tried again. The surprise 40th he threw for me will happily go down in history. Still, I’ve assured him that he has now fulfilled his surprise party-planning quota, though I’m not opposed to another surprise trip to the spa.


Shannon Linden writes books, magazine articles, and grocery lists. Her health column runs every other weekend in the Kelowna Daily Courier. Visit her and sign up for her blog at