Absinthe and Flamethrowers: Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously

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Bill Gurstelle is Geek Dad’s current guest blogger.

absinthe-and-flamethrowerabsinthe-and-flamethrowerI’ve spent the last two years writing my just released book Absinthe and Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously. It’s an exploration of a single, important question, which I think is relevant to GeekDads, or anybody raising children, for that matter.

Are people who take risks happier than those who do not?

It’s a simple question, but it took a while to come up with an answer. First of all, I had to better define the question. Physical risks? Emotional risks? Monetary risks? All of them? I looked at it a number of ways and decided to focus on physical risk taking. Basically, I wanted to know if it was intrinsically better to be an Evel Knievel or a Caspar Milquetoast? Better to be Chuck Yeager or Niles Crain? Are lion tamers happier with their lives than monks?

The answer is a bit complex. Psychologists can assess and numerically describe a person’s risk-taking proclivity. Risk-taking behavior can be summarized as a single number from one to 100. A one is a house-bound agoraphobe and a 100 behaves like a fire-eating crazy person. Not surprisingly, the distribution of risk-taking proclivity is described by a normal bell-shaped curve. Most people cluster around the mean score, as the graph below shows:golden-third1golden-third1

But here’s the cool thing.

I found that moderate, rational risk takers, that is, those with scores between the mean and one standard deviation to the right are the people who are most satisfied with their lives. I call that area “the golden third” because it’s about 1/3 of the population. Studies show that people who take just a bit more risks than average, that is, those in the golden third, tend to do better than average. They tend to be happier and more fulfilled. To me, that’s a stunning conclusion. And it’s something for parents to think about, as well.

I also found that getting good at risk taking requires practice. So I researched and experimented, coming up with dozens of rather interesting projects to build risk-taking skills. For instance, if you know what to do, you can walk into a Home Depot and come out with everything you need to build a rocket – a real rocket. You can make gunpowder. You can throw knives, eat dangerous food, do all sorts of things that would make your mother shudder. But it starts with knowing what to do and what not to do.

So get out there, geek dads, and live life dangerously and artfully.

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