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Breaking your routine

Wanderlust is the urge to go other places. But you don't really have to go far to break your routine. In this special feature, the student magazine Corpus has talked to a PhD student in psychology about the breaking of routines in everyday life

Imagine if every day when you got up, you experienced everything for the first time. Brushing your teeth, putting on your clothes and biking to school or work. Habit is second nature when it comes to all of these practical routines which make life quite a bit easier. However, the pattern repeats itself in many other situations in our lives.

Personality psychology deals with people’s individual differences and subjective ways of leading their lives. It is using this branch of psychology that Lasse Meinert Jensen, PhD candidate at the Institute of Psychology University of Copenhagen (UCPH), has examined people’s ways of dealing with, and not least organising the variation in their everyday lives and habits. Currently, he is adding the final touches to his PhD project, where he uses the expression the conduct of everyday life.

»Human beings need to establish order in their lives. They seek out peace. Conduct of everyday life describes the subjective approach to living your life, contrary to life style which rather pertains to society at large«, Lasse Meinert Jensen explains. »The premise is that it is crucial to be an individual, in order to be able to be a part of society. Therefore, it is interesting to look at how the individual person experiences variation in his/her daily life and, not least, what effect this then has«.

Wanderlust grand and modest

But from where does this wanderlust then come, if we all need order? If you look it up, wanderlust is defined as the urge to leave to go other places. A potential break with everyday routines is implied and it can take on many forms. From passive daydreaming, to living the dream on a backpacking trip around the world. Even meeting and old friend, partying hard in the weekend or a week at a festival, might serve as ways of living out that wanderlust.

»There is a difference between thinking about it and having been there yourself, but when it comes down to it, it is a matter of gaining the high ground, claiming a vantage point. And wanderlust is a question of getting this new perspective on things. Humans are curious, and the world is far from stable and therefore changes will occur, even if we don’t ask for it«, Meinert Jensen says and explains: »I believe that the point is, that it is important for humans to have an influence on their possibilities and actions, that is possibilities to create their own conduct of everyday life. When you feel that these possibilities are reduced and you lose influence or are subject to structural restrictions, the need to shake things up a little and gain a new perspective on the matters arises. This is exactly the function that travelling represents«.

This brings us back to continuity versus variation and the paradox that we need to feel at home, but at the same time, this involves the risk of feeling locked dead in our self-established order. Not only does wanderlust come in many forms, but also in several degrees. The sailors of Marstal, a traditional small community around a busy harbour in Southern Denmark, would hardly set foot on land, before they would long to go back out at sea again. These people have a constant restlessness in their bodies, while others never wish to go beyond the borders of this very kingdom. A break provides perspective, but not without consequences.

»We are bombarded with possibilities, which explains why escape seems appealing, but there is the risk of becoming disappointed, because of the way society is constructed. So any new perspectives may not connect well with one’s own life,« Lasse Meinert Jensen explains.

It might even feel like getting into a depressive state, when you – after one week of Roskilde Festival or a weekend trip to the metropolis, which you normally dream of moving to – finally return to the monotonous and grey routine of everyday life.

Several everydays

»It is important, however, to stress that no travelling doesn’t have to equal no variation. Humans are different and have different needs. In my study, 170 people have participated, and have been asked to chart the preceding day and assess various parameters. There is a large variance in the course of such a day, in the flow of positive and negative feelings within the individual, in different everyday situations. In other words: A lot more goes on in everyday life than we might expect« Lasse Meinert Jensen says.

A day is 24 hours long and there are seven of them in the week – most of them workdays. We probably all know the feeling of looking forward to getting off work, to looking forward to the weekend, or to long for the heat and sunshine of the summer. We not only create a specific order, we pass through it, and continuity and variation are entwined to become a whole. Human beings’ conduct of everyday life then becomes a study of variation through time. When one day brings the next, there is the risk that we forget what everyday life can be and contain.

Meinert Jensen points out: »Sometimes things turn out the way they do, not because we chose it, but because that’s the way it went. That’s when it is hard to see why we ended up where we are«.

Ultimate freedom

Life as a vagabond, or homeless person, is perhaps the most well-known example of a way of life which is free from the structures and rules of ordinary life. But think twice. In fact research shows something else entirely.

»Vagabonds and homeless people may have an even greater need for rituals and order« Meinert Jensen explains and continues: »They too, live under structural conditions and need to create room for a way of life, where they make the decisions. Safety and peace of mind is not exactly an everyday commodity, and so they wish to find an oasis to live in, and create a safe network. Others in the same category are these globetrotters, who have the entire world as their workplace. Maybe it is no coincidence that they pay to travel first class, which is more homelike, well attended to, and with more room. When you’re constantly on the move, you seek out regularity, not stability, as that is more static, but regularity, because one’s life is glued together that way«.

So we cannot avoid the paradox of continuity versus variation, because we live with and in it. Just as the need to create order and regularity is a human one, the wanderlust and daily variation is the same. In both cases, the everyday is the starting point, Meinert Jensen concludes.

»Humans have a need to direct their mental energy at something. This is when it is important to notice how much really goes on in our everyday. The everyday is the vehicle to break the routine«.

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