How Change Makes You Happier

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

I keep thinking I’ve already written this post. I’ll be writing another post and go to link to this one, and only then discover that I’ve never actually written it. I’ve eluded to its message, but never put this very basic truth of happiness here. So, here it is:

Change makes people happier.

Now, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while – or if you’ve been paying attention to your own life, I suspect – you’ll know that change is often the source of angst and unhappiness. I hate change, and even worse than change is the uncomfortable transition period leading up to it. In fact, most of us are hardwired to fear and avoid change.

And yet we are also hardwired to love change once it has happened.

More accurately, our brains love experiencing something new. Whether it’s new shoes or a new food, our brains tend to respond to novelty with a spike in happiness hormones. That little thrill you feel when you put on a new outfit or step out into a new city? That starts chemically in your brain, and it’s a completely normal and practically universal response to newness.

You guys. Retail therapy is science.

You’re welcome.

Of course, retail therapy is also expensive, and what is new today will soon be old.

That’s one of the downsides of relying on new stuff to make you happy. You’ll find yourself constantly seeking the next new thing and only being happy until the shine on your shoes dulls or the next iPhone is released. (This is called hedonic adaptation, and is also perfectly normal, much as it sucks.)

This is when I start to imagine the very smug faces of invisible strangers who cross their arms and say “see, I told you pursuing happiness is stupid.” But it’s not. It’s tricky, and a little more complicated than hitting the mall whenever you feel blue, but the pursuit of happiness – even if it is constant – is not stupid.

The trick, I think, is to try to discover sustainable newness.

Sustainable newness is novelty that won’t break the bank or become old and boring within a few days. It’s also something I just made up, so the definition is still a work in progress.

I look for sustainable newness at the thrift store (because at least it’s a little bit cheaper there) and in craft projects. I find it when I learn something new – like knitting – or when I stay up late watching documentaries about a foreign-to-me subject. I cultivate sustainable newness by shaking up my routine once in a while, and by making the effort to meet new people.

Sustainable newness, it seems, is often the kind that comes with that uncomfortable learning curve and transition period. It’s not usually the easy, quick fix kind of change that comes from dropping by Target, but I think the results last longer. I also suspect, although I have zero scientific proof to back this up, that it’s even better for the brain than retail therapy.

What do you think? Do you see proof in your own life that novelty makes us happier? Have you found sustainable newness?

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  1. One of my top interests (one of my “light words,” as Karen Walrond calls them) is “exploring” or experiencing new things. It’s interesting to read that everyone is programmed to enjoy exploring or to love change. When I keep “exploring” on my to-do list, I’m definitely a happier person. Some simple ways I incorporate exploring include driving a different route around town (through neighborhoods, for example, instead of on the main streets); walking through a new park; and making art. Thanks for the thought- (and exploration-) provoking post today!
    Heather Koshiol’s most recent post: Explore: Do you ask yourself what you should be doing with your life?

  2. Amy says:

    I love this term, sustainable newness. Something to think about.

  3. Marta says:

    I’m terrible about being happy with what I have and not craving the NEW, the CHANGE. I love it and impatience makes it even more difficult to sustain because i’m chasing that instant gratification. The only thing I’ve found to truly be sustainable are relationships. Friendships and interactions with people always make me happy.
    Marta’s most recent post: Fine.

    • Miss Britt says:

      Science has just as much to say about connections making us happy as novelty, so you’re totally normal in that respect.

  4. Yoga girl says:

    If love comes out of you when you find a new object you will have found happiness.

  5. Renee says:

    Sustainable newness is a brilliant term, and one that is essential. I know that when I have too much sameness, my reaction to boredom is frequently unhappiness and depression.

    Thank you for giving a name to an elusive necessity!
    Renee’s most recent post: Beginnings

    • Miss Britt says:

      Yes, I get restless. I swear my husband does too and sometimes he picks fights just to break routine.

  6. Love your post.

    Change is essential in all aspects of our lives in order for us to grow.

    As someone who’s trained other peoples bodies for the past 30 years, one of the key ingredients is continual changes to exercise programs in order to achieve results. It’s amazing how quickly our bodies adapt. The same should apply in all aspects of our lives.

    Craig
    Motivational Speaker | Craig Harper’s most recent post: Connecting With People You Don’t… er, Connect With

    • Miss Britt says:

      I’ve heard that. I think it’s interesting how much our bodies tell us about our brains.

  7. Lynn says:

    Want sustainable newness in a marriage? Just imagine that someone else is trying to steal your spouse. It’s amazing how new your marriage seems then.

    • Miss Britt says:

      Oh man, but can you do that without being all freaky jealous and paranoid? I get bitchy when I’m afraid people are trying to steal my husband.

  8. When tragedy hits – such as death of a spouse – that is change too, to say the least. It is, as you say, experienced as very, very unhappy.

    And, at the same time, there may be a glimpse of curiosity there too, perhaps coming from that place deep, deep within that knows that change can lead to happiness too. A different kind of happiness than the happiness lost, but happiness nevertheless.

    Experiencing such a glimpse of happy curiosity in the midst of grief can be very, very challenging. It can feel like betrayal. But it’s not! It’s perfectly healthy and it is not in anyway contradicting the grieving process.

    • Miss Britt says:

      Wow. What a very wise and insightful comment. Thanks for sharing.

      I think the happiness/growth in these experiences can come from doing what we didn’t imagine we could: surviving it.

  9. Oh no, Target has you, too?! ;)

    “Sustainable newness.” Oh my gosh, I love it! My sustainable newness has always been writing (which explains why it’s easier to start things than it is to finish them, haha).
    Elizabeth Barone’s most recent post: Indie Author Branding: How to Figure Out How to Brand Yourself

  10. Renae says:

    I love the concept of sustainable newness. Two thing came to mind immediately: nature & people watching. It seems I never tire of spotting a new (to-me) species (or a rare one) or making up stories in my head about the relationships I observe between strangers.

    Of the two, nature is more reliable for me. I’ve noticed in the past that ANY long stretch of sameness in the weather, for example, starts to wear on me. But then a celestial event or a storm or just a particular quality of light happens and my interest is ignited again.

    I love that you gave me a term to use to describe this sensation.

    • Miss Britt says:

      YES. I bet that’s why we all get really whiny at the end of winter (or summer) even though people are so excited for fall and spring.

  11. Hi! Just stopping by to let you know I have nominated your blog for a Liebster Award. Please visit http://followingpawprints.blogspot.com/2013/04/liebster-award-weve-been-nominated.html for more information. I hope you have fun with it!

  12. [...] believe we are all creative. I know that learning and doing new things makes us happier. But sometimes there is a gap between knowing those things and living them. Perhaps making room for [...]

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