Mental Health

Leaving your comfort zone might make you happier

A girl plays with a giant bubble as the sun sets at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, California June 30, 2011. Picture taken June 30.       REUTERS/Mike Blake  (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Rubin's insight is backed up by research on what scientists call "hedonic adaptation." Image: REUTERS/Mike Blake

Shana Lebowitz
Strategy Reporter, Business Insider
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I've written before about how I like doing the same thing over and over — and in case you didn't believe me, I'm writing about it again.

If I could keep the same routine every day — same wake-up time, same route to work, same breakfast, same cup of tea — I'd be delighted. It's something I know for sure about myself, and something Gretchen Rubin knew for sure about herself, too, until she started researching the science of happiness.

Rubin is the bestselling author of multiple books on happiness and habits, including, most recently, "Better Than Before." In April, she visited the Business Insider office for a Facebook Live interview and told us about a finding that initially surprised her: For most people, novelty and challenge can make us happier.

Here's Rubin:

"Sometimes when we're feeling overwhelmed, when we're feeling like life's moving too fast, we think, 'Well, I just want to pare down. I want to keep things as easy as possible.'

"But often we're happier, we feel more energetic, more productive, more creative when we try something new, when we challenge ourselves a little bit, when we kind of go out of that comfort zone. That atmosphere of growth can really boost our happiness."

Rubin's insight is backed up by research on what scientists call "hedonic adaptation." The euphoria we feel when we score a promotion, or move to a new apartment, for example, tends to fade over time.

In one paper, Kennon M. Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky suggest that one strategy to counter hedonic adaptation is to find ways to continually notice and appreciate the positive things in your life.

That said, Rubin mentioned an important caveat to novelty-seeking: You have to know what "novelty" means for you. For the people she calls "familiarity lovers," it might mean going to a different diner than the one you usually pick. If you're a "novelty lover," it might mean traveling to a country where you don't know anyone and don't speak the native language.

Rubin's insights made me rethink my affinity for routine — and made me wonder if, perhaps, I could be happier if I occasionally went out of my way to take a different route to work or drink a different type of tea.

As Rubin has noted on some of her blog posts, if you don't place a high value on spontaneity, seeking out new challenges can feel uncomfortable. But generally, she says, it pays off — especially if you know what you consider a new challenge.

"What's true for you?" Rubin said. "There's no right way or wrong way."

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Related topics:
Mental HealthBehavioural SciencesLeadership
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