For his 50th birthday, one woman set her husband 50 mini-challenges -not sky-diving or running a marathon, but everyday adventures designed to get more out of life. The experiment isn’t over yet, but the results are already astonishing.
My husband’s 50th birthday was approaching and I was searching for an appropriately “big” and memorable present. He wasn’t a material kind of guy, I knew that, and I although I could think of lots of experiences he’d enjoy – a trip to see The Book of Mormon, a meal at the Fat Duck – they felt too short-lived. A few hours of guffawing or gorging and that would be it.
Then, one morning, I woke up all fizzy-brained with an idea emerging: I could give him a box of 50 mini-challenges – written down and presented enticingly – to open and do, one by one, over the year. Each one would be nothing much in itself (after all, it worked out at roughly one a week and he was busy enough). But together they would be designed to help him to try new things, seize more pleasure, connect (or reconnect) with people, appreciate the little things, get round do doing things he’d always wanted to do, go out of his comfort zone – or just do something playful and random for the sake of it. Yep, I’d drip-feed him tiny experiences and adventures to make his year as a 50-year-old really pack a punch. I guess, on some level, it was also an anti-fossilising programme for the middle-aged, to stop him slipping into a pipe-and-slippers rut.
Then I started having doubts. Would he actually like this present? If someone sprung it on me, I’d hate it. I don’t like surprises or being told what to do – but I’d feel obliged to do the things, grudgingly. My instincts told me he would, but I decided to check it out with him, in a vague, giving-no-details-away kind of way. I was right. He loved the idea. “It’d be like the thrill of opening a birthday present, but then I’d get to actually do something,” he said. “Every week!” I started thinking up and preparing the 50 things to put in the box. I made most of them easy, quick-fire ones, with just the occasional more taxing or time-consuming activity.
Here is a selection from the full list…
1. Make a loaf of bread.
2. Pay for someone’s tea or coffee anonymously.
3. Every day this week, capture a moment of your day with a drawing or painting.
4. Register at the police station as a line-up person.
5. Buy an item of clothing from a charity shop that you really like, but isn’t the sort of thing you normally wear. Wear it.
6. Go to a dance class.
7. April Fools’ Day: play a nice trick on somebody.
8. On holiday, take a photo of 10 strangers (with their permission). Try to get a little story or snippet to go with each.
9. Invite someone new to go for a beer.
10. Send a message in a bottle.
11. Put £5 in a prominent book in the library with a note that makes it clear it is for the finder to keep. Wait discreetly for someone to find it.
12. Have a lie-in until at least 11am. Revel in it.
13. Go skinny-dipping.
14. Write and post a letter to Fred (our teenage son) to surprise him.
15. Give lots of (genuine) compliments this week. If you have a nice thought about someone, let it out!
16. Try Laughter Yoga.
17. Take photos of your 10 favourite corners of our home.
18. Pick a random novel from a bookshop. Read the first paragraph. Do something (anything) triggered by those words.
19. Eat a whole lobster.
20. Do a Life Expectancy Calculator test. So, how many years have you got left? Write down five things you’d really like to do in that time.
21. Try an alternative therapy such as reflexology, reiki or acupuncture.
22. Visit a crop circle.
Now, two-thirds of the way through, the present has generated more pleasure, positivity, long-term effects, unexpected outcomes and spin-offs than I ever imagined. He says he is enjoying the way it is constantly pushing back the edges of his life and taking him up new avenues – as well as old ones he’d forgotten.
He has overcome fears (he actually got high on dancing, a man who I have only managed to get dancing once, drunk at a wedding, in the 20 years we’ve been together). He has seen tiny, random acts of kindness make a big difference to people (the reaction to a game of nice Knock Down Ginger, where he left an anonymous gift on someone’s doorstep, brought tears to his eyes). He has been braver and bolder with people (would he have run after a group of nuns in a park in Warsaw and engaged them in conversation and a photo shoot before?). He has been spontaneous (he doesn’t usually swim naked in the local river on a Sunday evening) and indulged himself against his natural inclinations (he hadn’t allowed himself to wallow in a bath or have a lie-in for years). He has learned new skills and rediscovered old talents from his youth, such as art (his paintings turned out bloody great) and writing (he decided to record all the experiences in a blog). He has also had a peek at his life from a deathbed perspective; always a good thing.
Best of all, there has been a lot of laughing. He has made me laugh, made other people laugh, laughed himself, and laughed at himself. “It has made turning 50 a good thing,” he says. “It could have easily gone the other way.”
Have you got any good ideas for mini-challenges? What would you put on the list? And how did you/do you feel about reaching a significant birthday?
(Article source: The Guardian)
23. Invite a bunch of blokes round for afternoon tea and cake in the garden.