“A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.”
The one thing about life that is certain is its unpredictability. Nothing stays the same forever. Every day we are bombarded with new stimuli, new challenges and new events.
For some of us, unpredictability creates a state of panic; it keeps us up at night and distracts us from enjoying the world around us. People like being in control of their social world and vulnerability is seen as a sign of weakness.
Uncertainty is so abhorred that Berger and Calabrese (1975) proposed the uncertainty reduction theory. The theory asserts that the anxiety created by uncertainty of the social world motivates people to reduce and avoid uncertainty.
So how can we better navigate around life’s inevitable detours?
Most of us are taught the importance of planning, being highly structured and organized. We have at our disposal copious technological devices designed to ensure that we stay on the right track within the right time frame. While spontaneity remains the spice of life, we relish existing within the confines of predictability (a safe and comfortable environment). Life, however, takes its own twists and turns, and for good reason. If it did not, we would quickly get bored.
I once encountered a woman suffering from severe depression. In her early 30s, she stated that her life is nothing like she imagined it would be. She revealed all her expected dreams and aspirations in a wonderfully detailed timeline. However, she despaired over all the obstacles, setbacks and wrong turns she had taken that have “prevented” her from achieving her dreams.
I asked her “if you were driving to town, and there was a roadblock, what would you do? Would you stay at the roadblock until the road was repaired, then proceed to drive to your destination?” With a confused expression she vehemently stated that she would have done the most sensible thing: “Find another route.”
It is easy to become discouraged when things do not go according to plan. We all want things to turn out perfectly. But, just as we won’t sit by a roadblock waiting for the road to open, we should not sit at life’s roadblocks and despair about how difficult or unfair life is. There is always more than one way to get from point A to point B.
Erikson speaks about this in the last stage of his psychosocial theory of development. When we look back at our life, how are we going to see it? We have two options: We can anguish over all the obstacles and roadblocks that came our way, or we can enjoy the scenery of different routes, take pictures along the way, meet new people, develop new skills and practice acceptance.
How can we challenge ourselves to enjoy the scenery of a detour?
- Be flexible.Make plans but do not ever cast them in stone. Leave room for life’s curveballs. From an evolutionary perspective we are designed to be able to adapt. Use this to your full advantage.
- Increase coping skills.Consciously engage in activities that increase your ability to cope with uncertainty, e.g. finding humor in situations.
- Determine the controllable vs. uncontrollable events.Do not ruminate on events that are beyond your control. Focus instead on the events in your life that you can control and practice acceptance of those that you cannot.
- Meditate. The positive benefits of meditation cannot be overestimated. Meditation can create a state of calm and equanimity, decreasing your chances of experiencing panic in response to a detour.
Berger, C.R. & Calabrese, R.J. (1975). Some explorations in initial interaction and beyond: Toward a developmental theory of interpersonal communication. Human Communication Research, 1, 99-112.