Is a surprise more enjoyable for the receiver or the giver?
Why is giving or receiving a surprise so important and memorable? Reflect back on your past birthday celebrations, for example, and think about what you remember most. The random birthdays over the years? Or the year that someone threw a surprise party for you? Better yet, what about the year that you threw a surprise party for someone else ?
Surprise parties, surprise outings or vacations, surprise gifts or notes, and even very small surprise actions represent the buildup of excitement for the giver, and the act or event allows for creative planning and expression. According to author Jill Suttie in Greater Good Magazine, from the recipient’s end, surprise helps to bring vitality to life. “Delightful surprises … can make your whole day,” Suttie writes. “Surprise works on the dopamine system in our brains, helping us to focus our attention and inspiring us to look at our situation in new ways.”
Surprises that are given to or planned for us make us feel excited, elated, and appreciated. And, the surprises don’t need to be huge. A small surprise—like a small gift or a handwritten letter—can be just as exciting as a large one. As Richard Branson says, “Little gifts and surprises are just a wonderful way of telling somebody that you love them.”
On a personal level, growing up, my sister and I were very fortunate to have parents that understood the true value of surprise. Our mom loved to plan surprise scavenger hunt-types of adventures for us as well as taking us to surprise restaurants for dinner (which she still does to this very day, even on her birthday).
Too, our dad enjoyed giving surprise gifts at random occasions (like giving us gifts on his birthday) and would plan surprise adventures on days when we seemed to have the least expectation of even leaving the house. (Like the time he packed us up in the car with food, pillows, and blankets, then driving to an unknown location, which happened to be a drive-in movie theater!) These surprises are special memories that I will carry with me throughout my lifetime.
So as you’re reminiscing about some of the more memorable surprises you’ve received in your life, also reflect on the surprises you’ve given. You might be surprised at how much long-lasting joy you’ve given!