A few months ago, I was on a plane and the lady sitting next to me was reading a book called I Don’t Know What I Want, But I Want To Be Happy. I thought to myself “Interesting title – that seems to describe me; I don’t have my life planned out either, but like everyone else, I also want to be happy”. After a moment’s thought, I realized that that book’s title pretty much sums up the underlying theme of the entire self-help industry: we may not be sure where we’re going in life, but we do want more happiness, in the form of either wealth, success, fame, love or admiration. Although I haven’t read that book, I doubt that it contains the elusive formula for happiness; if it did, then it would be the only self-help book that anyone would ever buy, and the entire industry would collapse.
Sadly, you will not find the elusive formula for happiness in this blog article, but I believe that I can point you in the right direction. You, of course, have to take the steps yourself, but by looking at the world from the Bob Angle, I have discovered a way to help you fill your existence with more joy, enchantment, intrigue and wonder: Live your life without boundaries!
Right now you’re probably thinking “Living Without Boundaries? This sounds like another one of those useless inspirational speeches given by people who charge the audience members hundreds of dollars to hear such gems as ‘carpe diem – seize the day’, ‘think out of the box’, ‘stop and smell the roses’, ‘life is a journey’, or (my personal favourite) ‘step outside of your comfort zone!’ “
This article is not like that. First of all, it’s free, and secondly, this is my own original hypothesis. Your next thought might be “Wait a second – aren’t boundaries a good thing? We need them to stay out of trouble. Parents, especially, need to them to raise well-behaved children, and impress upon them the fact that boundaries exist, that they are immovable, and that there are consequences if you cross them”. This is true, but as helpful as they are, they also have a dark side – boundaries and happiness seem to be mutually exclusive.
The road to a boundary-less existence and its resulting happiness and wonderment begins with a look at children. If any of you have kids, then you know that they don’t like boundaries – they’re always testing them, and trying to get them altered or removed. Our job as adults, is to make sure that these boundaries stay in place. Looking at things from the Bob Angle, it’s clear to me that adults don’t like boundaries very much either; we just don’t realize it, since the ones we encounter in our lives don’t restrict our behaviour. Nevertheless, their adjustment or removal will pave the way to our reclamation of an existence filled with a child-like sense of wonder and amazement.
A number of years ago I thought to myself “As a child, when was I the happiest?”. The answer for me was “at the end of June, just as the school year was ending”. That’s because the entire summer was laid out before me. Eight weeks without teachers! Since time seems to pass more quickly as we get older, eight weeks seemed like an eternity to a child. That’s why I was so happy: summer seemed like an eternity. From my vantage point at the end of June, I couldn’t see the boundary.
My euphoria lasted until the first week of August. When July changes to August, I feel that I’ve just crossed the midpoint of summer. My endless vacation was now half over, and the end was on the horizon. The next jolt occurred during the first week of September – suddenly the beginning of the school year was one week away. The boundary was not just on the horizon, it was right in front to of me, and it was depressing.
This is the essence of my hypothesis: When you can’t see any boundaries, whatever occupies your attention becomes intriguing, fascinating or even magical; when the boundaries appear, the magic disappears.
Example #1: Imagine that a friend has invited you over to his house, and that this is the first time you’ve been inside. Sitting in the living room, you’re looking around. You see a hallway that leads somewhere, you see a closed door off to the side, and on the opposite side of the room you see stairs leading to the second floor. You think to yourself ‘Wow – look at how big this house is! It’s practically a palace!” If your friend at some later date gives you a tour of the house, and you finally see the whole thing, your first thought might be “That’s it? That’s all the space you have? How can you people live like this?”.
Example #2: I remember the first time I heard the song King Of Pain by The Police. I was driving in my car, and the song came on the radio. I recall being absolutely mesmerized by the opening line “There’s a little black spot on the sun today”. This line held so much promise – perhaps, like the opening scene of The War Of The Worlds radio broadcast, Sting was singing about a seemingly innocuous event that would later threaten our very existence. The black spot could be a fleet of alien ships speeding toward us with plans of colonizing Earth. On the other hand, the song could be something less whimsical but equally dire: sunspots are usually caused by intense magnetic activity – this could be an indicator of a colossal magnetic pulse that would cripple all of the electronic and computerized equipment on the planet – effectively catapulting civilization back a hundred years. This could be Stings’s dystopian prognostication, an allegorical warning that we are becoming too reliant on machines to augment our quality of life… the possibilities were numerous, and exciting! However, as the song progressed and the story unfolded, I became supremely disappointed. Despite the vivid and unsettling imagery, I kept thinking “Was that all that he could accomplish with the story, after such a promising beginning?”.
Example #3: If you were to chart the popularity of a song on a Top-40 chart (with time moving along the x-axis, from left to right), it would form a more-or-less parabolic shape. The song rises up the charts, peaks, and then falls back down within a couple of months. When you hear a song the first few times, you are learning it. You may first be attracted to a hook, but soon are becoming familiar with the melody, the song structure, and instrumentation, and the lyrics. Each time you hear the song, there is more to discover and more to learn. Over repeated listenings you slowly create a mental map of it. As soon as you’ve memorized the song, you’ve hit the boundary, and there is nothing left to discover, and you will no longer hear new things. Suddenly, the song no longer sounds as catchy; the joy of discovery has ceased. That’s generally when the song peaks on the charts, and then starts its journey back down again.
Example #4: In the 1980s video games (due to technology constraints) were limited in their complexity: blasting asteroids, munching dots in a maze or vanquishing endless swarms of aliens. Now, thanks to exponential increases in computer processing power and storage, game designers can create massive digital worlds inside your PC (or online). Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, Second Life, and World of Warcraft are so elaborate and far-reaching that they eem to exist in their own separate universes. With so much to discover, I’m not surprised to hear news stories of people neglecting their day-to-day lives and spending every waking hour playing these games. The World of Warcraft makers have gone a step further by releasing expansion packs on a regular basis – giving players new realms to explore and ensuring that they never see the game’s boundaries.
Example #5: Let’s suppose you’ve started a new relationship. The first little while is often known as the “honeymoon phase”. You are on an incredible high – the sky seems bluer, the grass seems greener, the flowers are more fragrant, and your favourite songs suddenly sound completely awesome. What’s happening here? You can call it the “honeymoon phase”, but I call it the “discovery phase”. You are building a mental map of your new beau or belle. It’s as if they are represented by a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle – every time you learn something new about that person, it becomes another piece that you can add to the puzzle, which gives you a more complete picture. The joy comes not by completing the puzzle, but by constructing it. Who knows what you might discover next about this person? As those more expensive motivational speakers might say “The journey is the reward, not the destination”. Now, look at how much money I’ve just saved you…
After a while of course, you will learn all there is to know about your love interest, and that’s when the honeymoon is over. There is nothing left to discover. The excitement dies down, and if you’re lucky, you will settle into the “being comfortable around each other” phase of the relationship. It’s not quite as exciting, but at least your daily routine is predictable. Not everyone can handle this transition; some people get so high from the joy of discovery that they will climb onto the dating merry-go-round – they will date one person until the joy of discovery stops or slows down, then drop that person (for apparently no reason) and jump on another horse.
There is evidence of this phenomenon in pop culture – for example, the colloquial expression “seven-year itch”. Married men (and presumably women as well) are more likely to have an affair during their seventh year of marriage. At this point, they likely know everything there is to know about their partners, and crave the novelty of a new person so that they can continue their “discovery phase”. There is also an example of the link between hapiness and the discovery process pop music. In 1979, Rupert Holmes released a song called Escape, also known as The Piña Colada Song. The son’s lyrics describe a man who becomes bored with his wife and decides to have an affair (“I was tired of my lady, we’d been together too long”). However, at the end of the song, his interest in his wife is renewed when he learns new things about her (“Then we laughed for a moment, and I said ‘I never knew… that you liked piña coladas, getting caught in the rain…’ ”).
The key to creating more happiness and contentment in your life is simple: push back or eliminate the boundaries, both in yourself and in what you experience, and then immerse yourself in the joy of discovery. This will provide both joy and wonder for yourself, and fascination for other people. How do we do this?
- Visit a new place each year. The world is huge, and you will never be able to see it all in your lifetime. Stop returning to the same vacation spots each year. Some people I know have set a travel goal of visiting either all ten Canadian provinces or all fifty U.S. States.
- Meet new people, and expand your social network – each new person represents a new metaphorical jigsaw puzzle for you to assemble. There are over seven billion people on the planet, which is more than enough. In fact, if you live to be 85, your heart will beat perhaps 3.5 billion times, so for all intents and purposes there is an endless supply of humanity out there for you.
- If you love music, then expand your musical horizons and listen to different types of music. Explore a different genre, or time period. Dig out your old vinyl albums or neglected CDs and listen to the “deep cuts” – songs that weren’t hits or didn’t receive any radio play. Study the work of a single musician in depth. Borrow audio CDs from your library, search for music videos on YouTube and listen to some of the streaming radio stations on iTunes.
- Take up a musical instrument (or start practising one that you’ve neglected). Music offers a continual (and boundary-less) challenge – while enough practice may eventually make you a virtuoso, you will never master your instrument. In addition, there will always be those who are better players than you, and from whom you can learn new techniques.
- Learn new words and use them in your day-to-day conversations. The English language contains over 600,000 words, yet the average speaking vocabulary of university graduates is about 17,200 words. This means that you are using only 2.9% of the words available to you. Google “Word Of The Day” and you’ll find a number of web sites that will help you expand your vocabulary.
- Explore the fourth dimension – go back in time! While you can’t do that literally (at least not yet), you can visit a museum or go to your local library and research the history of your city, town or neighbourhood. Rediscover the places that you thought you knew!
- Join Toastmasters! One reason I find Toastmasters so much fun is that each week we learn something new about our fellow members through their speeches. With each speech, members reveal a few tidbits about themselves, which allows us to assemble our own jigsaw puzzles. New members join all the time, and this gives us a continual joy of discovery.
- Many couples brag to others that they know everything about each other, have no secrets, and share everything. If this describeds you, then I urge you to make one exception: don’t let your significant other see your boundary! Once they do, then the proverbial honeymoon phase of your relationship is over. If you don’t want your significant other to lose interest in you, then the onus is on you to keep pushing those boundaries back, and make sure that they always remain just out of sight. This means you must learn new things continuously and never allow yourself to “plateau”. Take courses, ask questions and keep adding to your storehouse of knowledge. Convince your significant other to take courses too — just not the same ones you’re taking. Once these new pieces have been added to your own personal jigsaw puzzle, reveal new things about yourself slowly but regularly. Just when your spouse thinks that s/he knows all there is to know about you, you can surprise him/her with something new! If you can accomplish this, then you will remain endlessly fascinating!
- If you happen to be between relationships and want your next one to last, then choose someone who has the ability to grow and develop. Don’t pick someone who’s already plateau-ed. A smooth-talking ladies man spewing trite, rehearsed phrases may seem impressive at a bar, but what will he be like six months down the road? Examine the big picture and ask yourself “how many pieces are in his jigsaw puzzle?”. Choose people with depth.
The discovery of boundaries is depressing, but their absence gives one the impression of infinite abundance, discovery and opportunity. If you can manage to live your life with the boundaries kept just beyond your field of vision, then the world will suddenly become for you, a mesmerizing, wondrous and even magical place!