Why traveling makes you happy? Is it true that you should spend most of your spare money on travel to get the best happiness boost?
We all know the feeling. The anticipation of discovering far off lands, changing our day-to-day scenery, and learning new things about how others across the globe live their lives. We all know we feel happier, less stressed and more connected to Mother Earth when we travel. But, have you ever questioned why?
Scientific studies (Van Boven & Gilovic, 2003; Van Boven, 2005; Carter & Gilovic, 2010; Gilovic et al., 2014) show an experience, as an exposure to a distant land and culture while traveling, has a greater bearing on our happiness than any material purchase.
When you go traveling, you get the happiness in three ways:
- before — as you plan it,
- during — as you live it, and
- after — as you remember and share it.
In contrast, happiness you get by buying things doesn’t last so long — because you adapt to it via a psychological phenomenon called “hedonic treadmill” or hedonic adaption.
The Key To Happiness
There is no one single key to happiness.
For decades, studies have attempted to reveal what lights us up, makes us smile, and feel all warm and fuzzy inside. While this is different from person to person, there are some common things that trigger the release of serotonin, the happy chemical, in our brains.
Dr. Gilovich, a Cornell University Professor of Psychology, has led several studies (Van Boven & Gilovic, 2003; Nicolao et al., 2009; Gilovic et al., 2014, Peng & Ye, 2015)) and observed a pattern. There is an increase in serotonin when we purchase things, eat savory junk foods, or smoke cigarettes.
That is, we get a surge of happiness when we give in to a temptation and silence our inhibitions, without giving much care to the consequences.
However, the after-effect might be a huge letdown. Because this release of serotonin and this feeling of “happiness” is only temporary, even if it’s something we have been anticipating for a long time.
As a matter of fact, this quick uptick can be more damaging than what some may believe, as it also pushes the brain to a quick downward adjustment and make it part of its normal, daily processes.
This is the phenomenon of hedonic adaptation we talked above – one that’s great for physical things, but in terms of happiness, always leaves us craving for more.
Well, you might ask at this point: “What if we keep on buying?”
Then, beware, it could turn into a behavior problem called compulsive shopping disorder. And that behavior has been found to be linked to depression, anxiety, and other negative emotions.
Experience v/s Material Stuff
Look at the last things you purchased – clothes, food, or any other object – you notice a common instance. There has been a gradual loss of interest. This took place at different times. While some items brought joy longer than others, however, there was no lasting effect of happiness.Because our experiences become our memories, they are more truly a part of ourselves than possessions. Click To Tweet
On the other hand, buying an experience has a different effect. Experiences tend to keep this feeling of happiness much longer lasting. As they are practically ingrained into the memory, people are able to get those feelings resurface with just small reminders, like a smell or a photograph.
According to studies, this sense of déjà vu (the feeling that one has lived through the situation before) is one of the top producers of happiness, bringing us back to some of the happiest moments of our lives.
Another point. When we buy some material stuff, and compare it with other similar stuff, we tend to feed our regret and rumination.
But it’s harder to compare experiences, as opposed to the physical stuff. For example, no matter how satisfied you are with your smartphone, you can still compare it with the latest release on the block — and lose some of that satisfaction you originally had. But you can’t exactly compare the taste of an apple with the taste of an orange.
Does Travel Increase Happiness?
Travel offers people a unique experience to take a step outside of their normal life and puts them in a more vulnerable situation than what they’re used to. It is generally easy for most of us to fall into a routine, doing the same thing day in and day out, week after week, year after year. This humdrum of living doesn’t give the brain the opportunity it needs to stay much happy.
By the way, serotonin levels in our blood are also raised when we meditate, expose ourselves to bright light, and exercise. And traveling involves at least the last two of those.
Besides the adrenaline rush and the sensations that come along with curiosity, those who travel out farther from their routine world, get rewarded with a richly positive experience. This is because you are able to see how others live, and comparing your life to theirs, find it fascinating in many ways. This gives you the chance to step back and take a good look at your life and how you live it.
The Power of Experience
Unlike the material things that some choose to invest in, experiences become a part of the individual, sometimes changing their point of view or way of living life forever. The appeal of material things fades over time, leaving us wanting more, or the next big thing.
Experiences are unique because of the the fact that they do not tend to get old, remaining with us throughout almost our entire lives. Unlike material things, which are separate entities from the human body, experiences are part of the being — with the brain, the heart, the gut, the nose.
St. Augustine said,
The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.
We are wanderers and explorers by nature, historically attempting to answer large questions that helped us grasp a larger understanding of our place in this mysterious universe. Taking this basic human element out of the picture, we are left with a void to fill — one we try to do with things like food and items.
The advancement of technology has only made this void larger, doing away with the need to think too deeply or seek out things that drive our curiosity. Most of the things that ought to intrigue us, but don’t, because everything is just a web search away.
In such an anti-curious world, traveling can ignite that curiosity in the human brain, causing its wheels to turn, and allowing it to reveal its powerful potential.
We all work, and we have stresses and responsibilities. But once we’re done with handling them, we go out shopping. Now, instead of using our disposable money on material goods — things that might end up in second-hand pawn-shops a few years down the line — if we were to invest in travel, we can give ourselves a more direct and long-lasting positive effect on happiness.
So, now we know we are better off spending more money on experiences rather than material objects for adding to our happiness, take the chance and book yourself a trip.
Don’t think too much about it. Pick a place, pack the essentials and make that trip — even if its only to the neighboring town. Realize it’s really the simple things in life that matter a lot for your happiness.
Don’t wait, and don’t overthink. Travel out somewhere to add to a lifetime of happiness.
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Authors’ Bio: Yogi and Suchna, for over a decade, have mapped their way across various continents, sniffed out unusual routes, discovered new flavors, and stayed at quirky hostels. TheVillaEscape is their expression of soul travel. Sandip Roy is the founder of Happiness India Project.
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