Recent research suggests that new and diverse experiences make people the happiest. People felt more positive emotions when they spent more time in locations that were novel to them. The boost to happiness was seen in increased brain activity in regions critical to novelty and reward.
The results suggest that people feel happier when they have more variety in their daily routines, when they go to novel places and have a wider array of experiences. Even relatively small changes — like walking around the block or taking a different route to shops — may have beneficial effects.
The opposite is also likely true: positive feelings may drive people to seek out these rewarding experiences more frequently. The results showed that when people were in new and different places on the same day, they were more likely to report feeling happy, strong, relaxed or excited.
Collectively, these findings show the beneficial consequences of environmental enrichment across species, demonstrating a connection between real-world exposure to fresh and varied experiences and increases in positive emotions.
Brain scans on a subset of these people showed a strong link between novelty and a rewarding feeling. Some people’s brains are particularly sensitive to diverse experiences and it gives them a greater boost. In these people there are stronger links between parts of the brain important for feeling good and for processing reward and novelty.
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.