Why being spontaneous can make us happier

We often pack our diaries so full that we leave little room for unplanned choices, but are we missing out on moments of joy? Claire Mannings thinks so

A couple kicking up autumn leaves wearing wellington boots

When was the last time you ‘popped in’ to see someone without texting them first? Or went out with friends for a spur-of-the-moment lunch date that hadn’t been in the diary for three weeks?

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In today’s busy, technology-driven society, spontaneity seems to have gone out the window. We have apps to tell us exactly which route to take, synced calendars that keep us up to date with our family plans, and instant communication methods that allow our friends to tell us exactly what they’ve got going on that day. But although this means we can be more prepared and efficient with our free time, this level of organisation is not always good for our emotional wellbeing. Research suggests that being too busy can stifle our creativity, while a jam-packed calendar can cause stress and anxiety.

“To plan and strategise is necessary, but you can take it too far,” explains coach and mindfulness consultant Alison Callan, co-author of You Are Meant For More. “When you have too much of a rigid routine, you can feel really constricted. You’re not open to new experiences that don’t align with your plan, even though they could be very enriching. When we look for opportunities, we rarely miss them, but when we are stuck in our blinkered view of life-by-diary only, we ignore the wonders of the world and what might pop up.”

The benefits of being spontaneous

Being open to spontaneous events and allowing our mind time to reflect on things, rather than rushing from one planned activity to the next, can be very beneficial for our emotional health.

“For me, there are two specific positive effects on our minds from doing things spontaneously,” says life coach Naomi Light. “One is that it fires up the kind of thinking that produces creativity and enhances our emotional intelligence and intuition. With regular exposure to novel experiences we are better at ‘free-associating’, which improves our ability to problem solve.

“The other is that spontaneity is about surprise,” she adds. “The emotion of surprise is useful therapeutically (so long as it is a good surprise) as it can switch our brains into the positive connector emotions of trust, love and joy. These, in turn, will trigger the production of the happy hormones we hear so much about.”

Alison agrees. For her, embracing spontaneity allows us to tap into the sense of awe and curiosity we have when we’re younger and enables us to really experience the richness of life around us.

“As children we are spontaneous,” she says. “We have routines, but we also have imagination, time is a mystery and we are always seeking the unknown. This enables us to truly explore the world. As adults, however, we have everything planned. We think we know what to expect from the world around us, how we ‘should’ respond to events and what we feel about projected outcomes and opportunities.”

But this ‘adult’ way of thinking doesn’t necessarily allow us to grow and evolve. In Alison’s view, opening ourselves up to trying new things on the spur of the moment – much like we do as children – encourages us to continuously learn things about the world around us, and ourselves. It can also help improve the way we deal with challenging situations, too.

“Getting out of the cycles we have created allows us to increase our resilience to general life,” she explains. “When we live on autopilot, we allow our routines to dictate how we respond to situations in a predictable style, and this limits our allowance for change and resilience. Life throws many challenges at us and if we are numb to them through the power of repetition, we deny ourselves the full experience of feeling, processing and expansion. By being present in the moment and choosing our actions instinctively, we can perceive more and grow emotionally, thereby becoming stronger for future challenges.

“The experience of enjoying life is living it and not always planning it, allowing ourselves to be led in the moment by our feelings and emotions,” she adds. “These are the things that make memories last and bring wonderful feelings that overwhelm us with happy hormones and gratitude for experiences.”

Woman leaping over water
Unsplash/Ivana Cajna

5 ways to be more spontaneous

1

Schedule in some micro moments of freedom

It may sound like a bit of an oxymoron, but this can really help you become more open to your instincts. “Block out an hour in your diary for something spontaneous,” Naomi advises. “Don’t plan any of the details of that hour until you get there and then see what happens. Ask yourself the question: ‘What would I like to do right now?’ Then try your best to remove any of the barriers to doing that thing.”

2

Decide to say yes

Just as we need to give ourselves permission to say no to things that don’t bring us joy, we also need to allow ourselves to say yes to things that will! There are times when we say no on autopilot, when an invitation doesn’t tie in to our schedule or we’re nervous about something new. But choosing to say yes can introduce you to some exciting opportunities. “American TV producer and writer Shonda Rhimes said yes for a whole year and it changed her life so drastically that she wrote the book A Year of Yes,” says Naomi. “You can try it too – perhaps start with a week of saying yes?”

3

Try using affirmations

Open yourself up to joy and spontaneous happiness by starting the day with a mantra. “Use an affirmation such as the following: ‘Something magical is happening today, something magical is coming my way’ and look out for it,” Alison suggests. “You never know what might pop up to surprise you, but I can guarantee you’ll feel excited to find out!”

4

Go for an aimless journey

Walk simply for the joy of walking. We’re always going somewhere, or heading in a certain direction, but as Naomi explains, part of what makes a stroll so interesting is not knowing where you’ll end up.

“Hop off the bus at a stop you have never been to before or grab your OS map and follow your nose down an interesting looking path. Make sure you have no destination in mind so that you can really benefit from the surprise ending,” she says.

5

Call a friend

Text messaging tools are brilliant inventions and, in many ways, they have opened up a whole new world of communication. However, many argue that they have also closed down other ways of communicating and reduced our real-life interactions.

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“The next time you have a random thought of an old friend, pick up the phone and call them,” suggests Alison. “Or even better – drop by to see them. If they aren’t there you could leave a hand-written note like we used to.”

This article was first published in In The Moment Magazine issue 31. Discover our latest subscription offers or order a back issue.