The Science of Travel & Happiness
“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation.”
Before we talk about the science behind travel, let's get to the bottom of happiness.
Discovering and maintaining happiness can be tricky, but there is a lot of science seeking to solve the problem.
With the recent advances in technology, we have begun to really measure and quantify what it is to be happy—and consequently—the optimal way to live your life and achieve happiness.
Of course, the path to happiness may be unique to everyone but research is showing us specific things that have the greatest effect for the most people.
What the Research Says
For more than 20 years, Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, has been trying to untangle the complex web of happiness and its relationship with money.
Through his research, Dr. Gilovich has discovered that happiness is not sustained from buying things that we want—even if they're things we highly desire or consider to be an extension of our personality.
Gilovich explains: "One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation. We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them."
Okay, that makes sense. We all can relate to the feeling of being excited by something new and then bored of it rather quickly.
But, if we just kept buying new things, couldn’t that provide the novelty we are looking for and thereby maintain our happiness?
Well, not according to the trends of happiness throughout the world, or by the research conducted at Cornell.
So, what is the secret sauce in the recipe of sustained happiness?
Although buying new items may provide novelty, they lack an essential ingredient to the recipe of maintaining happiness.
Here is how Dr. Gilovich puts it:
"Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods. You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless, they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”
This research reveals what many of us intuitively know to be true. I am confident that everyone reading this can directly relate to the notion that experiencing things can induce greater states of happiness than buying them.
Our richest and most precious memories do not originate from material goods we’ve purchased. Instead, they are a consequence of experiences we’ve had.
Now that we have a better understanding of how to achieve happiness, let’s optimize the process of maintaining happiness.
The science of happiness has revealed two key elements:
- Happiness thrives best in novel environments
- Material goods are less influential than experiences because they are separate from you
Therefore, what is the optimal way of achieving happiness?
Traveling offers one of the best sources of novelty since it brings you to entirely new places and cultures. The barrage of new stimuli significantly impacts your brain and how you process information.
In this space, time seems to slow down and everything feels more enriching. That is because you are focused on absorbing all of the new information.
The disconnection from your typical surroundings that you are highly adapted to provides a new and optimal environment for happiness to thrive in.
And where does this bliss live? Novelty.
You can easily become adapted to your new phone after using it for a while and when the novelty wears off, you'll be searching to replace it.
But travel provides us with the opportunites to have experiences of a lifetime that cannot be replaced and won't be forgotten.
Buying physical things is separate from you since you are purchasing material goods, but having experiences are a direct part of you—and in fact—forge you.
We buy things to evoke joy but what if we did things that directly induced happiness instead?
Having experiences that become a fabric of your identity is a much better investment...like cutting out the middle man and buying straight from the source.
Traveling is powerful and extremely impactful because it uniquely combines novelty and experience in a way that nothing else on Earth does.
Invest your hard earned money in new experiences and you will be investing in a better version of yourself.