The Benefits of Volatility

Our lives are entirely too predictable to keep us engaged and satisfied
By Mike Donghia
Mike Donghia
Mike Donghia
Mike (and his wife, Mollie) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.
September 1, 2021 Updated: September 3, 2021

Consistent. Predictable. Dependable.

All three words have positive connotations in our culture because of the immense benefits they bring to society and those around us. It’s good to be consistent in your habits, predictable in your behavior, and dependable in your responsibilities. But what about when our daily lives become defined by these same qualities?

It may be that our modern world has swung the pendulum too far and we’ve removed volatility from our lives at the expense of our own health and happiness. In fact, there are benefits to unexpected—and sometimes unpleasant—changes. Bringing some of this uncertainty back into our lives offers more than just discomfort.

The Modern Mundane

Volatile systems aren’t entirely predictable. They are prone to unexpected changes and variety. They don’t operate with the often mechanical regularity of our modern lives.

Take, for example, the way we space out our meals three times a day with a small snack in between, never leaving the slightest chance for hunger to grow. Or the way we maintain our homes at a comfortable 72-degree climate year-round, only to climb into our temperature-controlled cars when we need to leave the house.

We’ve even removed the spark of the unexpected from our free time. And at the end of the day, we turn on Netflix or browse social media for hours before going to bed, all the while teaching some program our habits and patterns so it can better predict our behavior and get us to come back the next day.

Benefits of Volatility

Throughout civilization, regardless of the culture, humans haven’t lived such predictable, stable, and comfortable lives. And for that reason, we may do well to heed the wisdom of history and not allow ourselves to relax so completely into our comfortable routines.

Here are a few ways that we can benefit from volatility, or the occasional unsettling of our lives:

We are strengthened by stressors.

We have long known that periods of intense exercise followed by rest cause the body to adapt and grow stronger. But modern science is discovering that other such “shocks” to our system may benefit us as well.

Fasting, sauna bathing, and exposure to cold temperatures are beginning to accumulate evidence in their favor. This makes perfect sense, and it appears that the same effect carries over to our mental health as well: Exposure to some stress makes us stronger than being exposed to no stress or chronic stress.

We grow happier from contrasts.

Food never tastes so good as when you are ravishingly hungry. The warmth of home feels so much cozier after growing wet and cold from shoveling snow. And rest feels most satisfying when preceded by extreme exertion.

Our life is enhanced by contrasts, not diminished. If you want to appreciate and enjoy the full range of human experiences, there is no better way than to expose yourself to more variety.

We slow down and become more present.

Do you want to slow down the perceived passing of time in your life? Would you like to look back in your old age on a lifetime filled with memories and experiences? There is a strong case to be made that monotony makes us feel each day passes slowly while the weeks and months disappear in a blur.

Without variety, novelty, and surprise there simply aren’t enough anchor points for us to hang our memories on.

We discover unexpected joys.

Did you ever consider the possibility that your very best friend might be someone you haven’t met yet? Or the best book you’ll ever read might be years in your future? The most breathtaking view and your biggest laugh might be waiting for you too.

All of these wonderful prospects are a great reason not to slip too deeply into the comfort and rhythm of a completely predictable routine. Some of life’s greatest moments are unexpected twists, turns, and adventures. We need only leave open the possibility for volatility and surprise can find us.

Ways to Volatilize Your Life

You cannot exactly plan volatility into your life. You need to leave room for the truly unexpected. A good step in the right direction, however, is to add variety. Occasionally, expose yourself to an extreme that you may not be used to. Or simply make space to try something novel. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Occasionally skip a meal or fast for an entire day.
  • Expose yourself to hot and cold environments.
  • Embrace serendipity by saying “yes” to unplanned moments.
  • Take an extended break from something that you enjoy.
  • Explore all of the parks and trails within 90 minutes of your home.
  • Seek out laughter and humor in your life.
  • Drive a new route to a familiar destination—without using a GPS.
  • Read a book on a topic that you wouldn’t normally pick up.
  • Take a sabbath rest and avoid all productive activities for 24 hours.
  • Invest money that you won’t need for decades into volatile assets.
  • Experiment with a new hobby or skill.
  • Go for a long walk without a planned route or destination.

This article was originally published on This Evergreen Home, you can read it here.

Mike Donghia
Mike (and his wife, Mollie) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.