Would you be surprised if we told you that surprise is not simply a feeling of astonishment? It’s much more complex than that – and it’s been studied by researchers and surprise-makers (like us!).
Read through the article to find out what happens when you feel surprised… and why you should welcome surprise into your life with open arms!
Why are you surprised?
Surprise is a reaction you experience when you walk into an unexpected or misexpected event.
So the starting point is what you expect to happen in everyday situations – what you’re used to. If something unexpected happens – or if it happens in a way you didn’t foresee, that’s when you experience surprise.
The intensity and duration of the feeling depend on the degree of surprise, which in turn depends on how different the event is from your frame of mind.
When you feel surprised, you forget about everything else: you plug into the moment and your attention is completely focused on it. This allows you to have a deeper experience in the present, living it at the fullest.
As you can see, surprise is more complicated than you might think… and whenever it comes into your life, it makes you go through a series of stages. Let’s find out more!
The surprise sequence
So what happens exactly when you feel surprised? The researchers call it “surprise sequence”: a series of stages that shape your experience and reaction.
The very first moment you experience surprise, there’s a spike in your brain waves because all of your cognitive resources pull attention to the object of surprise. The result, on the outside, is a goofy but genuine facial expression that researchers eloquently call “duh face”. No need for explanations!
This is the stage where you analyze the object of surprise: your brain goes quickly through a broad range of thoughts and questions in order to understand the event and have a coherent emotional reaction. Of course you don’t even notice that, but think about it: how do you “decide” whether to be happy or angry after something unexpected happens?
If being surprised means that your expectations are unmet, you might as well change your frame of mind at some point – so that you’re not constantly surprised anymore. In order to do that, you need a shift in your internal schemata. And how does that happen? With the sum of many tiny surprises that cause as many tiny shifts beneath the surface.
The fourth and last stage of the surprise sequence is all about sharing… but why do you do that? Because surprise is actually exhausting for your brain, and you get relieved by sharing. Well, of course you also do that to create stronger connections with others and to tell interesting stories – which often hide behind surprises.
Imagine how you would feel if you allowed surprise into your life more often: you would be able to be completely present in the moment, and to live life in the flow. If you wish to have a taste of it, you could start with a surprise travel – we will plan the whole thing, you only need to get ready to be surprised!