Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Happiness and Our Openness to New Experiences

Source:  Wikimedia

Harvard Professor Arthur Brooks has a great column in The Atlantic this week. The essay is titled, "Don't Approach Life Like a Picky Eater."   Brooks writes:

Openness to a wide variety of life experiences, from visiting interesting places to considering unusual political views, brings happiness. “Only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible,” Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in his Letters to a Young Poet, “will himself sound the depths of his own being.”

He had the data on his side. Openness, also known as neophilia, is strongly, positively associated with happiness. Of course, you can push this too far, becoming chronically disgruntled without a constant stream of novelty, or turning into a danger addict always searching for the next extreme experience. True happiness comes from a healthy, balanced neophilia that cultivates a love for the adventure of life.

Brooks argues that we should consciously choose "curiosity over comfort" at times.  I agree.  Neuroscience indeed confirms that novelty stimulates the brain in positive ways. However, we need to be aware of the dangers of impulsive behavior.  We don't want to pursue a new experience simply because it's novel, and we don't want to engage in reckless behavior in search of a short-term thrill.  That is unlikely to lead to sustained happiness.  With some care and thoughtfulness, however, we can adopt a mindset of healthy restlessness. 

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