“If happiness is the goal – and it should be, then adventures should be top priority.” — Richard Branson
I have a feeling that almost everyone is thinking about adventure incorrectly.
To prove it, here’s one of my favorite adventure stories:
It’s 4.30 in the morning. Pitch black. The dim light from my headlamp is just bright enough to see Juma, who’s my mountain guide. We’re walking slowly through the darkness, up a really steep incline. My heart’s pounding. My chest is heavy. But I look up at the night sky and the stardust of the Milky Way Galaxy grabs my attention. Then Juma shouts for me to catch up, so I snap out of my stargaze and trek on.
We’ve been trekking since 10 pm the night prior, and I’m exhausted. But I remain focused on the goal: get to the top of this mountain. So after another hour or so of climbing, Juma and I catch a glimpse of the summit and look at each other. With a burst of adrenaline, we race to this large wooden sign, which I had been envisioning for years: “Mount Kilimanjaro summit — 19,341 feet.” Taking it in for a moment, on top of the highest peak in Africa, I thought about what we’d accomplished. We climbed a mountain. What an adventure.
The problem with adventure
When I say the word adventure, what comes to mind? Maybe climbing mountains, jumping out of airplanes, or going on expeditions deep in the wilderness. And that makes sense. In fact, Webster dictionary defines adventure as, "an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks."
But there’s a problem with this definition. Most people feel that adventure is unattainable. It’s something that’s reserved for the intrepid: people who can, on a whim, explore the most remote corners of the world. Not meant for regular people—you know, those who work 9-5 jobs or are in school full time—it’s out of reach. When we’re lucky enough to take vacation time to adventure, our experiences feel rushed and fleeting.
Adopting this definition forces many of us to distance ourselves from adventure altogether.
Now here’s another story, much closer to home:
Last summer, my friends and I joined a volleyball league. For context, we’ve hardly ever played volleyball. We simply thought it would be something fun to do after work. But here’s the thing: it was the most fun experience of my summer. Each week, I’d meet up with a group of friends on the beach. We’d laugh, get a bit of a workout in, and learn a new sport together.
What I loved most?—every Monday at 6 pm, I was present, I was excited to be there, and I was trying something new with an open mind.
I thought about the volleyball league for a while, and I realized—I loved the experience because it felt like an adventure. How could that be? I wasn’t far from home, surely wasn’t risking my life. So why did playing in this volleyball league feel like an adventure?
After carefully studying my feelings, I had a breakthrough. I discovered that there are three qualities that define every adventure, big or small:
- Being present in the moment.
- Being excited.
- Being open to new experiences.
Playing in a volleyball league in New Jersey appears to have nothing in common with trekking Mt Kilimanjaro.
But when you think about it, you don’t need to be traveling overseas or climbing mountains to feel adventurous. In fact, the qualities of adventure (present, excited, and open) are very much achievable in our daily lives.
Stop: At this point you might be asking yourself, why should I even care about being more adventurous?
Well, take one more look at the qualities that define an adventure: present, excited, and open—all three are necessary in order to live a happy and fulfilling life.
And there’s data to prove it.
In a recent University of Chicago study, only 14% of adults reported that they’re very happy. That’s a 5-decade low.
Some of the reasons for unhappiness found across many studies? Regret, boredom, and monotony.
But I have good news for you: we can all add adventure to our lives, every single day. And the qualities of adventure directly fight against the unhappiness caused by regret, boredom, and monotony.
See, adventure is the missing ingredient that can make us happier.
How to become more adventurous
Here’s a simple two step process:
- First, change the definition of adventure.
- Then, adopt an adventurous mindset.
Changing the definition
As it turns out, Webster has a second, lesser-known definition of adventure. That is, "an exciting or remarkable experience."
When put this way, I can think of countless examples of adventures:
- Climbing mountains, yes.
- But also joining new sports leagues.
- How about leaving your current job to try something new or start your own business?
- Or simply picking up a new hobby, like learning to play an instrument?
If we consciously accept this updated definition, adventure becomes much more attainable. It’s no longer reserved solely for those who wish to free dive with Great White Sharks in South Africa (although I have to admit, that’s on my bucket list).
Adventure becomes attainable for everyone.
Adopt an adventurous mindset
Now it’s one thing to change your definition of adventure. It’s another to actually feel adventurous in our daily lives.
Because, after all, it’s not easy to view something like learning to play the guitar in the same way we view skydiving—there’s a physiological response to apparent danger that’s impossible to replicate in most day to day situations.
That’s why we need to adopt an adventurous mindset.
An adventurous mindset is an attitude in which we view our experiences through the lens of adventure. That is, we’re present, excited, and open to all of our experiences.
And here’s how you can adopt the mindset:
Start by seeking out adventures. Don’t shy away from new experiences, people, or places. Challenge yourself to do one thing each week that you’ve never done before.
Then make adventure a habit. If you build a consistent habit of adventure, you’ll start to view everything you do in a new and exciting way.
Growing up, I was a soccer player. I started playing at age 5, with dreams of playing professionally.
I gradually leveled up over the years, and eventually played through college. I captained the team at The College of New Jersey.
Soccer was much more than a sport to me—it was my identity.
Once I realized that I didn’t have the talent to play professionally, I looked for other ways to bring soccer into my life.
After traveling overseas and seeing both the love for soccer internationally and levels of poverty that existed in some developing countries, I decided to start a soccer-focused social mission company with my best friend. It’s called Universal Dialect.
Our mission is to give as many soccer balls as possible to kids that can’t afford to play the sport they love. I wanted to share my identity with kids around the world. And I wanted to help.
Now let’s travel back to Mt. Kilimanjaro, where my talk began.
You might’ve thought that I went there to climb the mountain. But I was actually there for something much bigger. My company set up a soccer ball giving event at a local school in Moshi, Tanzania. That’s what I was there for.
I simply trekked Kilimanjaro because I love challenges and couldn’t pass up the chance to reach Africa’s highest peak while visiting.
While descending down the mountain, I turned my focus to what the next day had in store: we were heading over to the school to donate soccer balls.
The next day as we arrived at the school, a crowd of young, energetic Tanzanian students formed around the car. The school’s headmaster spoke to the kids in Swahili (the local language), and they formed a big circle large enough for me to set down the bags of soccer balls.
A quick look at the kids told the entire story. They were glowing in anticipation, with smiles that stretched across their entire faces. They wanted to move, to play, to take a soccer ball and run around.
I opened up the ball bags and an eager girl came forward to receive the first ball. Her reaction was something that I’ll never forget. She thanked me in Swahili, put it at her feet, and set off into the crowd of school kids. In a flash, the whole group was in motion — sprinting towards a dirt field next to the courtyard, shouting expressions of excitement along the way.
Then a young boy ran over to me, grabbed my arm, and guided me over to the dirt field where we hopped into the most exhilarating game of pick-up soccer that I’ve ever been a part of.
That’s when it hit me. This wasn’t about soccer.
The simple act of playing was an adventure. It was the kids’ adventure.
We were present in the moment.
We were excited.
And we were open to new people, places, and experiences.
See, the kids didn’t need to be far from home. They didn’t need to put themselves at risk or climb mountains. They didn’t even need money. It was simply about experiencing the qualities of adventure.
We were truly living. And we were happy. So we played, we sweat, we adventured under the hot sun for hours.
Becoming an adventurer
Reflecting on that magical day, two things became clear to me.
1. While I used to think of adventure in its typical definition, I learned along the way that adventure is attainable. Something as simple as playing soccer is just as much of an adventure as climbing the tallest mountains in the world.
And you don’t need to be far from home to access meaningful adventure and live a happier life. The truth is that you can turn any situation into an adventure.
2. I realized that, despite years of growing up playing soccer, soccer wasn’t my true identity. I was an adventurer all along, and soccer was simply the vehicle.
I’ll leave you with this:
I challenge you to change your definition of adventure, adopt an adventurous mindset, and seek out new experiences—as small as nurturing a new hobby, and as large as climbing a mountain.
I challenge you to become an adventurer.
Because after all, the world would be a happier place if we became a bit more adventurous.
- People often think adventure is about danger and risk taking. Think: jumping out of airplanes, climbing mountains, etc.
- But that's a problem, because most people feel that adventure is totally unattainable.
- The truth is that adventure comes from being 1) present in the moment, 2) excited, and 3) open to new experiences.
- So you actually don't need to be climbing mountains to feel adventurous—you can get the same feeling when you're trying something new for the first time.
- Why should we even care about adventure? While a University of Chicago study shows that happiness is at a 5-decade low, the good news is that adventure fights unhappiness. Have you ever been unhappy on an adventure?
- So how do you become more adventurous? Change the definition of adventure to "an exciting or remarkable experience," and then adopt an adventurous mindset: make it a habit to break your routine and try new things, weekly.
- Some examples? Join a sports league with friends. Pick up a new hobby, like playing an instrument. Start that side-project you've always wanted to. Take a new route to work.
- In a Covid-19 world, you don't need to be traveling overseas to feel adventurous. You can adventure safely at home. So I challenge you to become an adventurer. Because the world will be a happier place as a result.