Magazine article Psychology Today

She Imagines Your Surprise

Magazine article Psychology Today

She Imagines Your Surprise

Article excerpt

TANIA LUNA HAS COMMITTED HERSELF TO NOVELTY, WHICH SHE SAYS IS ESSENTIAL FOR LIFE, LOVE, AND LEARNING-AND SHE THINKS YOU SHOULD,TOO. by Gary Drevitch

SINCE SHE WAS a little girl in Ukraine, self-described "surprisologist" Tania Luna has plotted adventures for others. Today, she makes a career of it, arranging novel experiences for individuals and groups through Surprise Industries, which she launched in Brooklyn, NY, in 2009. The coauthor, with LeeAnn Renninger, Ph.D., ofSurprise: Embrace the Unpredictable & Engineer the Unexpected, Lunais spreading the message that not only is life not worth living without surprise; it may not even be possible.

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU'RE A SURPRISOLOGIST?

You have a desire to delight people. You have some weird selfish/selfless urge to create experiences for people so they can feel an unexpected surge of joy. And you have a desire for novelty and exploration and stepping outside your comfort zone.

HOW DO YOU ENGINEER YOUR SURPRISE EXPERIENCES?

When we started the company, we just put a calendar on the website that had dates and times. You would purchase a ticket and show up having no idea what you'd be doing-it could be a steel drumming class, or kayaking, or ice sculpting. Then we started getting requests for custom experiences. So we designed a questionnaire to determine what the recipient's comfort level is, what their likes and dis- likes are, and what would delight them. And then we would design a surprise.

WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF YOUR FAVORITES?

I love surprises where the person feels like the people who engineered it love and appreciate them. Once a school contacted us about a teacher who had been almost completely paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. The community really loved her. She was a thrill seeker, and she loved adventure, so we researched what was possible, and we were able to get a flight lesson for her. She took off and flew over the school, and the whole community came out and held signs for her.

DO YOU LIKE TO BE SURPRISED?

I'm an introvert, so I don't like a ton of attention, or the kind of surprises that startle you. As a child in Ukraine, we moved a lot and then we were granted asylum in the U.S. because of the Chernobyl accident; there was so much unpredictability that my response was "no surprises"-everything had to be controlled so I could be safe and secure and in charge.

WHAT CHANGED?

Well, the downside of that control is that you mute your capacity for emotion and experience. You look back on your life and think, "What did I do that year? Well, I was OK, I was safe." But that's all. I want to look back and remember weird things I did, like my husband and I going to a haunted house even though I hate being scared. I'm working on forcing myself to give up control. It doesn't come naturally. But what it means to be human is that we get to feel and do all these cool things.

DO YOU EVER AVOID EXPERIENCES WHERE YOU'RE NOT IN CONTROL?

I almost never do. I don't think I could live with myself. As long as it doesn't clash with my values, I'm in.

YOU SAY SURPRISE IS NOT AN EMOTION, BUT AN "INTENSIFIER." WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

No matter how amazing your life is-you get to fly first class or you get all this cool technology or your couch is super comfortable-there is still inevitably this flat line of emotional intensity. …

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