Why do some people crave adventure?
Google defines adventure as: “Engaging in an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.” This could include trekking through the wilds of Indonesia, bungee-jumping in New Zealand, hiking the Grand Canyon or swimming with sharks in tropical waters. Not everyone wants to do this, of course. The majority of people lie somewhere between total adrenalin junkies and risk-averse souls. But why do some people – myself included – need (almost crave) adrenaline-fueled adventures? What makes people undertake crazy challenges? What lies at the root of this nearly insatiable desire? Is it boredom? Is it thrill-seeking? Or is there more to this than meets the eye? I recently stumbled across some interesting British research that says our desire for adventure could be influenced by in part by our DNA. According to Dr. Geoff Ellis, who conducted research on 50 great British explorers through history, these pioneers shared similar traits and characteristics – perhaps a type of “explorer gene.” Read on – his findings might surprise you.
Some of Britain’s most famous adventurers and explorers shared the Aquarius birth sign. Other “adventurous” birth signs include Gemini and Libra. So, is it written in the stars? Perhaps, but wait there’s more to examine. It seems that more than half of the famous British explorers were born in the countryside and some 80% were at least 30 years old. Ready for more? The oldest and youngest siblings are roughly three times more likely to be adventurous than a middleborn, and nearly a third of British explorers interrupted their education to seek adventure. As Mark Twain said, “Never let school interfere with your education.” Moreover, British explorers and adventurers are taller than average, have dark hair and sport some form of facial hair. But Dr. Ellis is not alone in his belief about the link between risk-taking and genes.
University professor Marvin Zuckerman believes that our propensity to seek sensation and take risks is hard-wired in our brains. And the reason why might seem strange at first – our survival! We know that our early ancestors hunted to survive and that they pursued large animals for days to bring them down. As this never-give-up persistence also required taking risks, those who were prone to taking risks and survived were better able to pass down their genetic material. But since we’re now able to get food just about whenever and wherever we want, we must seek our primal pleasure in other ways. And that’s where extreme sports and exploring that allow us to “dance with death” come into play. Hurling ourselves out of perfectly good airplanes, climbing dangerous mountains, BASE jumping or free diving to almost inhuman depths now provide the dump of neurochemicals we seek much to the disappointment of our life-insurance companies.
Hooked on a feeling
Whenever you’re in danger, strong biochemical changes take place in the brain that provide a cascade of neurochemicals that shift us into fight-or-flight mode. This cocktail of “juices” (dopamine, adrenaline and endorphins) prepares us to handle extreme circumstances. In fact, entering this mode is what our crazy desires for extreme adventure are all about. Once our emotions and physiology get a “hit” of this, we’re off to the races in search of the zone, the rush or flow, however you wish to refer to it. Although I’ve written about these neurochemicals in the past, here’s a quick overview of what they do for us. The chief “feel-good” drug of the brain is dopamine. It excites you, makes you curious and encourages you to jump on the adventure bandwagon when you normally wouldn’t. Next up is adrenaline, which gets you pumped, alleviates worries and fears and provides laser-like focus and vision. Rounding out the group is endorphins, the magical chemical that helps you ignore pain somewhat and provides a wonderful sense of well-being. It’s kind of like having your own supply of natural opium that enables you to become calm and a fantastic feeling of accomplishment.
But, there’s a risk (aside from the obvious physical risks) that we often don’t think about – tolerance to this “rush.” The more familiar you become with what you’re about to do, the more you’re able to anticipate what’s going to happen, which means the risk is no longer perceived as the same. And when that happens, you’ve got to find your next intense challenge. You’re hooked, and you keep coming back for more! I know why I’ve done and continue to do the crazy things I do (especially at my age). It’s because I refuse to live my life in the warm safety of my comfort zone. I need a life that thrills and excites me. Sometimes my adventures don’t work out well. Sometimes my best isn’t good enough. But when an opportunity arises to take a shot at adventure, I’m going to take it every time as long as I’m physically healthy. That’s just the way I am. I’d like to leave you with two of my favorite adventure quotes. “I don’t want to not live because of my fear of what could happen.” – Laird Hamilton (big-wave surfer).“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson (poet and philosopher).