A close friend and I each have a milestone birthday this year. To celebrate, we planned a girl’s weekend to a city about four hours away. Good food and wine, shopping, and quality time were all on the agenda, and I was looking forward to it.
Leading up to our trip, though, I started to feel anxious about the particulars. Specifically, the packing and planning for myself, but also all the necessary preparations for my husband and two kids. Going out of town, it would appear, takes no small amount of organization and coordination.
It all worked out, of course, and my friend and I had an absolutely wonderful time, as did my family back home. The experience reminded me of a powerful happiness paradox, though: while we often seek to control our lives, it’s novelty and challenge that are the true building blocks of satisfaction.
Our routines are comfortable and useful, but it’s the new, fresh experiences in life where we stand to gain the most happiness.
This is undeniably true of myself. I love my routines and my familiar, structured days. I tend to shy away from change, and always prefer what I know, to what I don’t know. This is, I imagine, accurate for you, too.
What I find, though, is this: when I step out of my routine, disrupt my schedule, and try something new, I’m always glad I did.
Research backs me up. Winston-Salem State University Psychologist Rich Walker looked at 30,000 event memories and over 500 diaries, and his findings were clear: people who engage in a wide variety of experiences are more apt to retain positive emotions than people who have fewer experiences. These people not only have happier emotions, they also tend to minimize negative feelings, leading to, of course, increased life satisfaction.
It seems trying new things, whether it’s learning a new language, reading an unfamiliar book genre, or taking up a painting class, really do make people happier.
Of course, there’s a bit of an inherent causality dilemma. Does having new experiences make you happier? Or do happier people inherently lean in towards trying new things? I’m apt to believe, though, that it’s the former.
“Leave home, leave the country, leave the familiar. Only then can routine experience — buying bread, eating vegetables, even saying hello — become new all over again.” ― Anthony Doerr
For me, though, it’s not solely the novel experience which brings me happiness. Like coming home to your own bed after a long trip, returning to my routine brings me great joy. It acts as a reset, and increases my gratitude for my everyday life.
Leaning back in to my usual habits and the familiar ebb and flow of my days gives me a big boost of satisfaction. It reminds me my life is pretty good, and helps me appreciate aspects of it I sometimes take for granted.
Of course, weekend trips aren’t the only way to make this happiness hack work for you.
Carrying out any disruption to your normal routine will give you the same effect. Consider taking your laptop and working in a new location, spending a morning going on a hike or walk through a botanical garden, or simply watch a TED talk or listen to a podcast on an unfamiliar subject you’d like to learn more about.
Think about saying “yes”, when your inclination is to say “no.” Envision yourself five or ten years down the road: what new experience can you have today that you’ll look back on with pride and fond memories?
Intentionally embracing fresh experiences and challenges, even when it goes against your comfortable and familiar routine, can be powerful. You’ll come away from the experience happier, yes, but also with more appreciation for your ordinary, day-to-day life.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks so much for reading.