During quarantine, it can feel like the days melt together into one. While your work and social life might seem monotonous at the moment, a new study suggests that a small change of scenery or routine can improve your mood.
Researchers from New York University and University of Miami found that having new, diverse experiences every day is linked to positive emotions and enhanced happiness. And the good news is there are ways to reap the benefits safely while social distancing.
Something as simple as introducing variety in our daily routines may be enough to increase our sense of well being, Catherine Hartley, study author and assistant professor of psychology and neural science at New York University, tells CNBC Make It.
For example, trying a new workout, calling a different friend on Zoom, watching a show you’ve never seen or changing your neighborhood walking route, could make you feel happier.
If you want an actual change of scenery, there are safer ways to get away, from an outdoor hike to an RV vacation to a socially distanced resort experience. Just keep in mind the restrictions in your state and in the area to which you are considering traveling.
However simple the change, there’s a neurological reason why variety makes us happy.
The hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that is involved in spatial navigation and memory formation, “is also sensitive to the novelty of spatial environments,” Hartley says. Another part of the brain, called the striatum, helps us evaluate our environment and processes reward.
The activity in these areas of the brain tends to be more synchronized in people who explore new things daily, and has a stronger influence on their mood, Hartley says.
So “even though our ability to physically move around is limited by social distancing, it’s still possible to create diversity in the experiences that are in your control,” Aaron Heller, clinical psychologist and affective neuroscientist at University of Miami, who co-authored the study, tells CNBC Make It.
“While our study examined benefits associated with novel experiences linked to physical locations, our work suggests that exposing yourself to sights, sounds and experiences that you haven’t had recently might similarly be rewarding,” he says. Any change, from redecorating your room to downloading a podcast out of your typical rotation, counts.
For the study, researchers tracked 132 people ages 18 to 31 in New York City and Miami for three to four months. Participants received a text when they moved locations that asked them to note their mood and emotional state.
The people who visited more locations throughout the day reported more positive feelings, such as, “happy,” “excited,” “strong,” “relaxed” and “attentive.”
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