When was the last time you did something for the first time?
I recently spent an over-the-top fun weekend with my daughters and daughter-in-law in Boston. On the flight back to Austin, I chose a middle seat so my pregnant daughter could have the aisle. The plane was filling up when a woman asked to sit next to me by the window, and I breathed a sigh of relief that she was not a young mother with a crying baby in her arms.
As we were getting settled, I asked her if she was headed home. She smiled and said she was going to see her newly-married daughter, and it was her very first experience on an airplane. She opened up with childlike excitement and said, “I’m really not even nervous!” As we taxied out the runway, she looked out the window and kept saying “it’s so big.” And as we took off, she gripped the armrests and said “wow, that is so beautiful,” followed by “do we fly above the clouds the whole way?” She was in awe of so many little things we take for granted.
The wonder of doing something big for the first time can be so exhilarating, and it can add years to your life. Neuroscientists have found that the brain is hardwired to enjoy novelty and challenge. New experiences and challenges stimulate the brain to produce dopamine as you go into problem-solving mode. Increased dopamine acts like adrenalin, giving you that “high” feeling of exhilaration, and it affects movement, motivation and the feeling of pleasure.
Without dopamine, we experience a decline in memory, cognitive functions and attention. Also, it’s been proven that major depression is associated with a state of reduced dopamine transmission. I like to think my new friend added a few days to her life by taking her first plane trip in her 50’s. She certainly inspired me.
To make life count, we must bring new experiences into our lives on a regular basis. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, safe inside our comfort zone where life is familiar and often just mediocre. It takes work to explore something new, but it’s oh so worth the effort.
Doing something new doesn’t have to be huge, but it can change your life as it brings you joy and enthusiasm that lights up your soul. What is something you’ve always wanted to do? Here are a few ideas.
- Learn a new language
- Write poetry, or even a book
- Take a painting class
- Take a trip to a new destination
- Go bungee-jumping
- Go scuba-diving
- Draw with your non-dominant hand
- Change careers
What new thing will you do this week? How will you continually have fresh and challenging activities in your life that keep you happy and healthy? Don’t get stuck in a rut. Do something you’ve never done and #makelifecount!