Doing This One Thing Every Day Will Make You Happier, Study Says

Research shows that your mood will improve with this simple activity.

If there's one thing we've learned during quarantine, it's that nobody is content being cooped up at home. Humans are social creatures, and we thrive on personal interactions and adventure. Monotonous life—like being stuck inside during a pandemic—can lead to loneliness, anxiety, and even depression. In fact, research shows that having variety in your daily routine, including exploring your neighborhood each day, will make you happier.

A May study published in Nature Neuroscience tracked the moods and locations of 122 people over several months. The scientists concluded that experiencing new things every day, such as discovering parts of your hometown instead of staying on the couch all afternoon, results in a positive mindset. The more locations you visit and the greater variety of stops also contribute to feeling upbeat.

"The findings suggest that novelty is important, but experiential diversity is as well," co-author Catherine Hartly, PhD, a psychologist at New York University, told Inverse. She explains that it's a two-way street: Exploring lifts people's spirits, and cheerful people tend to explore more.

Mother and son walking and scootering with masks on

Though there are limitations due to social distancing, even the smallest step counts. For instance, you could take a different route on your morning walk around the block or opt for a bike ride instead. Look for different views you might not have noticed before, or take a book and sit in a different part of your local park. Hartley says the important thing is exposing yourself to "sights, sounds, and experiences" that you haven't had before.

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And if you truly can't leave your own four walls, consider a slight change in activities to add a daily dose of happiness. "At a time where our movement is constrained, it would be similarly beneficial to seek out other forms of novel experiences—what you're reading, what you're watching, who your social contacts are—in the ways that it's still possible to create diversity in the experiences in your control," Hartley said. And for more things that will make you smile, check out these 50 Happiness Hacks That Are Entirely Backed by Science.