Surprise is an emotion

Like everything else – the way we respond to certain events will be based on our culture, upbringing, our past and personal experiences. One's reaction will be individual as it will be unique, varying from person-to-person, even in the same family.

I was happy to see this theme of Surprise, because it is an emotion which is not often spoken about. However, I had very mixed feelings about being surprised. It was definitely a love/hate relationship but mostly due to my perception. I will share the first 2 stories that spring to mind and thereafter further context.

My sister’s party

My older sister is very kind but a shy person. She preferred small gatherings and often celebrated her birthday with only the immediate family and a few friends separately. For her 23rd birthday, her boyfriend and my mother decided to organize a surprise birthday party for her. Her boyfriend took her out and most of the preparations were done at his house and brought to my mom’s home when my sister left. Upon her return and opening the front door, her mouth fell open and her eyes seemed to pop out of its sockets - when everyone shouted “Surprise!!” Her face glowed with joy. She was so happy. She went around the room greeting everyone present with hugs and appreciation that they were there. I was so pleased for her as I dreaded that she would not like the idea since she is so shy.

Chitwan National Park


I went with my husband to the Chitwan National Park in Nepal. It was a lovely safari day – the elephants waded in lakes with the tourists (including us) on their backs, we spotted rhinoceroses etc. etc. After a long tiring day outdoors, we arrived at our accomodations and I headed to the shower. The cool water running over my skin was exactly what I needed. I took the washcloth and started to clean my body. When I got to my navel, I saw a LEECH curled up inside. I was so surprised – I started to scream. My husband came running and all I could do was point to my navel. I was in shock.

As experienced travellers, I knew about leeches - but that did not matter. I was scared and disgusted. We had read that we should never pull the leech off skin or apply heat. However, my husband very carefully applied heat and the leech curled and detached itself. (This is not advised!!). I then disinfected the area but wondered how the leech got so far up my body, without me noticing.

These 2 examples that I've shared – based on my own life experiences and environment – demonstrates that surprises can be both positive and negative. Although I was concerned and had my own preconceived notions regarding my sister’s surprise party-it was a positive experience for her. This does demonstrate that although being from the same family, we are unique in our experiences and perception.

I realized that I disliked being surprised because it makes me feel out of control. Not everyone likes to be one out of their comfort zone.
Well, I think there are different types of surprises and there is more to say about it. Without becoming scientific, I will share the following.

The definition

A Surprise is an unexpected event or the feeling caused by something unexpected happening.

Cambridge Dictionary

How to identify Surprise:
-raised eyebrows
-opened mouth
-large protruding eyes
-jumping or moving backwards

A Surprise can be:

  1. a familiar but unexpected event - e.g. surprise parties
  2. a totally new event – e.g. seeing an animal slaughtered for human consumption for the first time
  3. something unfamiliar to you – e.g. seeing a blue-footed booby


The main 6 basic emotions are:

  1. Surprise
  2. Sadness
  3. Happiness
  4. Anger
  5. Fear
  6. Disgust

When the word “Surprise” is mentioned, positive or negative thoughts can come to mind.
Positive or negative surprises can evoke the other basic emotions:
Positive Surprise – the birthday party evoked Happiness
Negative Surprise – the leech in my navel evoked Fear and Disgust

  • Despite being one of the basics emotions – not much attention is paid to Surprise. However, surprising events have a major impact and influence on the human psyche and is often remembered. This explains the effectiveness of the daily news which is often filled with surprising negative events.

  • Surprises can also trigger the flight of fight response with a rush of adrenaline which literally prepares one for action to run or to get ready to fight.

As mentioned earlier, reactions will depend on culture and the norms of a society; an Asian or African will behave differently from an American because their societies operate in different ways. For instance – haggling is not the norm for an American tourist who might be surprised when visiting Asia or Africa.

Surprises literally stops one in their track. One positive thing is that we become more present – we have no choice but to be in the moment. However, we are then vulnerable and out of our comfort zones. Surprises are sometimes uncomfortable but if one is not threatened or in danger or must take flight, surprises could be a learning moment as we are forced into unexpected situations. We are often in uncharted waters otherwise it would not be a surprise. We could learn a lot about ourselves, based on our reactions. However, sometimes we prefer to run away even if not threatened or we pretend about our knowledge or lack of it because we prefer to avoid discomfort. (e.g. pretending to know the answer to a question when asked by surprise).
Undoubtedly, some people will embrace novel surprises with a spirit of curiosity and discovery - in order to grow/learn - but not everyone will.

This is my reponse to Emotions & Feelings theme of the month, Surprise!!

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