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.
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?