I have written quite a bit about how I attempt to find joy every day through mindful moments of appreciation and gratitude. To be honest, most of the time it’s been pretty easy. For the past 37 years I was able to walk into the gym at UCLA and start my day with 20 hugs from our student-athletes—how could that not bring a smile to my heart? Now that I no longer have that ritual in my daily life, my concern is “What will replace those moments?” Considering that, like all retirees before me, I’m embarking on a whole new chapter, I think the key might be found in novelty— embracing the what’s new while continuing to enjoy the same ‘ol same ‘ol.
In the coming days, months and years my life will be filled with firsts—novelty. The comfortable routine I have become so accustomed to is gone (cue scary movie music). Being mindfully excited in welcoming all of the scary new steps I take needs to be celebrated. The sense of honor and celebration is something too many of us lose in adulthood. Many of us adults no longer get excited to seek new experiences, possibly because most novelty steps aren’t successful ones. I have snow skied once in my life, it took me over 2 hours to get down the slope, and I was on my bumb much more than I was upright. I didn’t exactly enjoy the experience, but I did feel invincible because I had done something new. That badass invincibility brought a wash of pride and joy.
It’s so easy to live within our comfort zones, avoiding at all cost the fear of the unknown. So I imagine, when a lot of people step into the arena of retirement they gravitate to the repetitive safe space of same ‘ol.
I’ve decided I want my next act to be filled with novelty. In fact, when I really stop and ponder what I want my next act to be like, the certainty I feel is that I want to be super challenged and super inspired. In order to cultivate those feelings I’ll need to embrace a lot of unknown.
By definition novelty is “the quality of being new, original or unusual.” That just sounds like a ton of fun, especially at an age where I don’t have much FOMO (fear of missing out), FOPO (fear of other people’s opinions), or any other kind of social neurosis.
We know through research that novelty also releases a rush of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine, the euphoric neurotransmitter that sends, among other things, messages of reward and motivation. When a baby takes a first step, parents celebrate and the child gets a rush of dopamine, which motivates the attempt at a second step. In the blink of an eye the baby becomes a running toddler. Before long, the novelty of that single step wears off and it takes another milestone to bring back that joy.
A life of consistent novelty seems like a near impossible and exhausting task. This is where I plan to also euphorically wallow in the comfort of ordinary. This falls in line with my long-preached love for daily gratitude. Gratitude for the minutia. As an adult it’s hard to celebrate a single step, but I can honor the fact that I’m physically fit enough to take a step. I can go even further and honor the fact that the step was without pain or even effort.
Every moment our lives are filled with these nuggets of joy either from something new or something ordinary. All we need to do is choose to pause long enough to appreciate them. What a gift that we don’t need to wait for something extraordinary to happen to get excited. We simply need to be mindful and present. I hope to make this a not-so novel concept 😉