There are times, usually in the evenings after the dishes have been cleared and Netflix has kindly served up the third episode in a row of Narcos (or whatever the show de jour is), when I find myself not just bored, but restless. And not just bored and restless but longing for SOMETHING TO HAPPEN.
I scratch the itch somewhat by buying something — anything — online, but we all know that’s a fleeting satisfaction (although it does feel good to click Add to Cart, doesn’t it?).
I tell myself that I can’t be bored, because I have a lot on my plate, but what I’m longing for isn’t along the lines of finishing another PowerPoint deck for a client or figuring out my quarterly estimated tax payment (yeah, no).
What’s with the ‘wanting something to happen’ feeling? What is the something? Until now I haven’t dissected it — I’ve just known it as a desire for an experience… some kind of challenge to meet and overcome… a feeling of “the rapture of being alive”(thanks for that rapturous coin of phrase, Joseph Campbell).
Sometimes it feels like a desire to go out — and not in a do my hair, sip cocktails at a hotel bar kind of way — more of a walk through the woods at night kind of way, more of a go outside and see the stars, hear a wolf howl… that kind of thing. But the barriers are too great: we live in the city and I don’t know where the woods even are, our 9:15pm bedtime might be in jeopardy if we did drive out to a forest preserve and then all the way back downtown, and I’m 700% certain I’d be murdered in the woods anyways (I watch enough true crime shows to know how things go down in heavily wooded areas at night). So I stay inside on the couch and go to bed (responsibly) on time.
Sometimes the ‘wanting something to happen’ feels like an impulsive urge to sign up for something, to commit myself to something that might change the direction of my life(a wee bit dramatic, but true). I want to register for some kind of deep and involved martial arts program that will make me disciplined and fit (although I’ve never looked good in a robe), or I want to book an appointment with a hypnotherapist, maybe say yes to an intense hospice volunteer assignment, or sign up for a brain painting session (that’s a thing), and for sure apply for and dive into another Masters program (because the one I did a couple of years ago still feels like the epitome of ‘something happening’). Yet again, the hurdles are high: I all-too-recently spent a shit-ton on school, Covid makes me want to steer clear of dojos, and potentially life-altering commitments made late at night usually look far less fabulous in the sober light of morning.
I look at life as an intersection of vitality and meaning, so of course I wanted to analyze this little “I want to go on an adventure” existential quandary by sussing out whether I need more joie de vivre or serious purpose. (Quick lesson in case you missed the first day of class: I believe we widen our lives by stuffing all the vitality we can into it, and we deepen our lives when we infuse them with meaning.) It occurs to me that what I am clamoring for is something researchers call vital engagement: lives colored in with both absorbed enjoyment and meaning. I want my life colored in! In vivid color! Don’t you too?
These researchers posit that the act of keenly exploring the world is the very thing that motivates us to keep coming back for flow-like experiences. (In case you missed the second day of class, flow is that magical psychological state we slip into when we’re “in the zone”… it’s when we lose track of time and get swept off our feet by activities that challenge us to the brink of our abilities. Flow is dreamy and what I am NOT feeling on the couch after dinner, just to be clear.)
So vital engagement is what I’m after, but with an extra dose of zesty adventure.
I’ve never been an adventurer, so I consulted the internet to clarify what I think I might be pining for. Here’s what the online dictionary had to say about adventure:
“Adventure is an exciting or remarkable experience.” This made me nod in earnestness. Excitement has never offended me, and what better way to differentiate between a ho-hum Wednesday eve and a mundane Thursday night than by making one of them distinctly remarkable? Adventure!
“Adventure is an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks.” This turned me off. Can I please have adventure without it being “a risky undertaking of unknown outcome”? I like known outcomes. Can I please have a remarkable Thursday night that’s not necessarily hazardous? Can I please walk in the woods at night without being dismembered? Screw adventure!
Upon reflection, I get that adventure doesn’t have to be potentially perilous (unless you want it to, you base jumper, you) — it can be remarkable without being death-defying. Pursuing an exciting-yet-tame encounter takes me to the safe edge of the adventure flame, although getting out of my comfort zone and flirting with risk throws me right into the center of its fire (in a good way; please excuse the clumsy metaphor). If the squirminess of unknown outcomes is what keeps me on our couch at night, craving for something more, then I might need to befriend risk if I want to feel truly alive.
Ways to create “exciting or remarkable experiences” so your life feels more like an adventure and less like an excruciatingly slow + monotonous spiral towards your inevitable death:
Make a habit of saying “hell yes!” instead of “no thanks”(unless someone offers you heroin). Hell yes means interrupting inertia and saying yes to dinner invitations, yes to that four-pack of dance lessons, yes to blind date opportunities, yes to nude painting classes. (Keep saying no to things that will de-energize you or bust your boundaries.)What’s in front of you now that might just need a resounding “yes”?
Spend your discretionary money on experiences instead of things. The science of well-being has exhaustively proven that experiential purchases make us happier than when we buy new handbags or air fryers. Eating the 14-course tasting menu at Alinea, for example, is a culinary adventure worth embarking upon (although The Husband and I could have bought five good quality air fryers for the same cost of our meal with wine pairings — just saying). Favor events over things — as a spending mindset — and adventure can’t not seep into your existence. What adventurous moments can you purchase?
Keep a list of ‘Adventures to Have Before I Croak.’ Think of this as a shopping list from which to draw upon when you’re jonesing for something remarkable. Not recording your ideas in advance guarantees you’ll come up empty for inspiration on a Saturday morning, when faced with 48 hours of time to fill. Keep at least 10 things on the list, ranging from ‘cheap and cheerful’ (like “visit the International Banana Museum in Palm Springs”) to ‘bold and brash’ (like “take flying lessons”). What’s on your list?
Find an adventure buddy. It’s not as easy to embark on a remarkable evening of axe-throwing… alone. Make a pact with a friend who also wants a little more vital engagement that you’ll take turns planning a monthly excursion/ event/ experience. Who can be a part of your adventure squad?
Balance planning with spontaneity. Plans make ideas happen, but they can be constricting if we militantly follow them hour by hour. Spontaneity is what leaves room for serendipity — those delightful happy accidents (like stumbling on the best gyros in all of Greece at a scary looking hole-in-the-wall joint you’d never EVER plan to dine at… because you missed the bus from the beach and decided to walk around and “play dinner by ear”). Am I the only one who plans to NOT plan a vacation one day? I want to go to the airport without a ticket, have The Husband look up at the giant digital screen of upcoming flights and pick a random destination, and then fly there for a good old-fashioned adventure. Where can you set an intention for an adventure to happen, and then let the wind blow you where it may?
Don’t blame Covid for feeling adventure-less. It’s true that The Plague has made the easiest way to have an adventure — overseas travel — a burden/ impossibility. So if we can’t get to places with new sights, sounds, smells, and tastes, why not get creative and concoct an exotic adventure… locally? I’m not getting to India any time soon, so why not drive up to Devon Avenue here in Chicago and immerse myself in a cultural experience? (How a girl with a sweet tooth like me hasn’t had Indian sweets yet is baffling.)What neighborhoods can you explore? What road trips can you take to towns and cities you’ve only seen on maps?
Like most things in life, adventure needs to be sought out. It will not knock on our doors at 8pm on a Thursday, interrupting the passive pleasures that lull us into pseudo-satisfied stupors. We need to take the initiative, make the plan (okay, a loose plan), and get up and go. We need to MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN.
Embarking upon life wholeheartedly with anticipation and excitement, as though it was an adventure — that all-out approach to life can make up for its finitude with intensity and passion. Let’s manufacture adventures that are both big and small — some minorly exciting and some downright extraordinary and even outlandish. I want to get to the end and look back on remarkable moment after remarkable moment. (So I guess I’m looking up where the closest forest preserve is, after all. Wish me luck.)
A selection of my favorite adventurous quotes…
“Go out in the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods, nothing will ever happen, and your life will never begin.”
~Clarissa Pinkola Estes
“It’s bad manners to keep an adventure waiting.”
“Go where you feel most alive.”
“Instead of trying to make your life perfect, give yourself the freedom to make it an adventure.”
“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”
“Adventures don’t come calling like unexpected cousins calling from out of town. You have to go looking for them.”
“Be careful going in search of adventure – it’s ridiculously easy to find.”
~William Least Heat-Moon
“Jobs fill your pockets, but adventures fill your soul.”
“Cover the earth before it covers you.”
“Adventure is not outside man; it is within.”
“So shut up, live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.”
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
“Adventure may hurt you, but monotony will kill you.”
“The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams.”
“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
“Live your life by a compass, not a clock.”
“If happiness is the goal – and it should be, then adventures should be a top priority.”
“The danger of adventure is worth a thousand days of ease and comfort.”