Exploring close to home could improve your mood, new research finds

USA, New York, New York City, Mother and baby in Brooklyn with Manhattan Bridge in the background
New study suggests that exploring your local area can increase happiness © Westend61 / Getty Images

Although long-distance and international travel is still off the table for many, a new study suggests that exploring closer to home could be just as much of a mood boost as discovering a new faraway place.

The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, tracked the location and moods of more than 100 people in New York City and Miami for several months and found that those who had more new and diverse experiences on a daily basis showed increased happiness and other positive emotions.

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Researchers found that these new experiences didn’t have to be groundbreaking or life-changing – simply exploring your own neighborhood could be beneficial for your mental health, especially relevant while our explorable radius has shrunk and it feels like a huge event just to go to the supermarket.

"What appeared to be most critical to positive mood was simply going to a diverse set of locations, not the distance one traveled on a given day," Catherine Hartley, a professor of psychology at New York University and a co-author of the study, told Lonely Planet. Perhaps a dose of happiness can be found just by switching up daily routines, and the study suggests that a positive feedback loop then encourages further exploration.

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Men practicing yoga on Ocean Drive in Miami © Kris Davidson / Lonely Planet

"Our work suggests that experiencing new and diverse experiences on a daily basis is linked to positive emotions," Hartley said. "We feel happier when there’s variety in our daily routines, and in turn, we are more likely to seek out novel experiences when we are in a more positive mood."

While travelers wait for countries to reopen and transport connections to resume, exploring your local area might not be such a bad alternative.

"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, a professor of psychology at the University of Miami and a co-author of the study, told Lonely Planet. "Exploring could mean taking a new path when we go for a walk or introducing variety in what you read or watch, or who you’re in touch with today. 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."

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