When you're feeling low, grumpy, or even a little depressed, what do you want to do? The answer for most of us is not very much. Our natural response to a bad mood is to hunker down with our comfort of choice and hibernate a bit.
But according to fascinating new -- and, sadly, very topical -- science, the best way to fight off the doldrums is to force yourself to get out there and do something new. You might have to drag yourself off the couch today, but this research shows you'll be happier for the effort tomorrow.
Explore your way to a happier tomorrow.
For the study, the research team utilized the fact that most of us carry a little homing beacon around in our pockets these days. They followed the daily movements of 122 study subjects using the location-tracking features of their phones for three to four months. They also sent subjects regular text messages asking them to report on their mood.
The scientists discovered the more people visited new and different locations, the happier they felt both that day and the next. Variety and novelty seem to boost our mood.
"We find that if I feel better today, I'm likely to move around and have more novel experiences and have more experiential diversity the following day, and vice versa," study co-author and NYU psychology professor Catherine Hartley told Inverse. "If I have more novel and diverse experiences today, I'm likely to feel better not only today but the next day."
For a follow-up study, the team scanned the brains of half the subjects with an MRI machine. They found that the volunteers who moved around and explored the most showed greater activation in two brain regions associated with processing novelty and reward.
"These results suggest a reciprocal link between the novel and diverse experiences we have during our daily exploration of our physical environments and our subjective sense of well-being," Hartley commented. Or, in everyday words, the happier you feel, the more you explore, but also the more you explore, the happier you're likely to feel.
Novelty lights up your brain's learning centers
This isn't the first time science has linked new experiences with positive brain benefits. Previous studies have shown that new and challenging experiences light up learning centers in the brain. Just as experience has probably taught you, you learn a lot faster when you get outside your comfort zone.
What's the bottom line for entrepreneurs? If you've been stuck at home a lot lately, it's no shock that you feel sluggish and low. Your brain is missing out on the novelty and exploration it craves. The good news is, if you can force yourself out of the funk and do something new (even if you physically can't go everywhere you wish you could right now), you'll feel better tomorrow. The more we explore, the happier and smarter we grow.