Every weekend that I can, I go out for many-hours-long random drives in the countryside surrounding the city we live in. I do it just to see what I can discover. I love going down roads I’ve never been on, seeing towns or fields I’ve never seen. It’s pure joy for me.
Looking back on my life, I realize that every single joy I’ve ever experienced has, in some way, been intertwined with an act of discovering. We are born with a desire to discover. You see it, easily, in small children. Almost every discovery is an occasion for joy, and they want to do it, constantly.
So I got to thinking – how do we lose it? How do we lose our desire to discover?
Well, first of all, many people don’t. They continue to want to explore – new things, new places, new people, new ideas, even new music. My parents were like that, well into retirement years.
Still, many people do lose the desire to discover. And the question remains – why?
One reason may be that many people look back on the joy of discovery and come to associate it with the thing discovered, not the act of discovering itself. We all know people like this: the best music is from when they first discovered music, the best television shows and movies are from when they first discovered particular shows or movies, and so on.
In order to bolster their viewpoint, they tend to denigrate anything not from their discovery period. All music written since (fill in the blank year) is garbage, all television since (whatever) went off the air is trash, and the like. There is hardly a YouTube comment section concerning older music, movies, or television shows that isn’t filled with these same sentiments, over and over.
Life, to me, is about discovery: people who have stopped doing it have more-or-less stopped living, which is why, I think, so many people who are stuck in the past are so miserable. We are meant to be explorers, and when we cease exploring we have relinquished something vital.
Discovery isn’t about something having to be “new”, by the way. It can be our discovery of something very old, but which is, as they say, “new to us”. As a child, I discovered that my favorite children’s mystery series of books (The Hardy Boys) had started back in the 1920’s and had since been updated, so I went in search of the older originals. It took me years, but each original I found was another discovery that brought tremendous joy.
There can also be discovery in finding new ways of looking at familiar things. As a child, I loved Warner Bros cartoons — Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and the rest of that crew. With age, a lot of the jokes took on different meanings, as I realized that a lot of the humor was way over my head as a kid. I have talked to young parents who loved the “Toy Story” movies growing up, who see a message in the movies about the relationship of parents and children that they couldn’t detect as children. Great works of art have a tendency to be sources of perpetual discovery. And yes, I consider Toy Story and Bugs Bunny to be great works of art.
Taking this discussion away from things to people, something analogous happens. Some people (a) seek out and enjoy meeting new people; (b) seek out and enjoy meeting old people; and (c) find new discoveries in people they have known awhile. Others do none of the above, and those people tend to be pretty miserable.
I mentioned my parents earlier. While they were living, they each went through stages of physical and mental decline. At each phase, they continued to explore and discover, but had to shift how they did it to accommodate new limitations.
One particularly sad group of people — at least to me — are those who love, and have loved, exploration and discovery, but who consider themselves unable to do it due to limitations imposed by life’s vicissitudes. It is as if they tie the act of discovering to the particular power lost, and without that power, no discovery is possible. Eventually, that no doubt becomes true, but there are those who give up discovery far too soon.
Exercising our creativity, by the way, may be the ultimate act of discovery. To write, to compose, to paint, to draw, to think up new worlds, new people – this is, as all writers know, both a tremendous joy and a tremendous frustration when it isn’t working out right.
So keep looking. Keep listening. Keep learning. Keep searching. Keep creating.