Thought Catalogue

Why you should spice up your life

Dr Anna McLaughlin

Do you ever feel like you're stuck in a rut? That everything around you is just the same, day after day? Maybe you need to add some spice to your life. Not the hot, sweaty, taste-bud kind of spice, but the variety that comes from exploring new things. 

We all know that variety is the spice of life. But what does that mean, exactly? According to research, it means a lot more than just enjoying new flavours and experiences. Our psychological need for variety helps us stay interested and excited in life, preventing boredom and monotony. 

So how can we use this knowledge to our advantage?

Novelty keeps us happy

According to science, there is a good reason why people crave novelty and seek new experiences. Dr Laurie Santos, a Yale University Professor, is famous for researching the connection between novelty and happiness. Dr Santos explains that novelty makes us happier by rewarding our brain with ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters that boost our mood. New experiences also capture our attention and make us focus on our surroundings, encouraging us to be more present.

Simply being more mindful and present can substantially improve our mood and happiness, enhancing the positive benefits of novel experiences. Trying new activities and learning new skills can also help prevent depression and anxiety in the long term.

Variety boosts brain health

Your brain needs variety to stay healthy as you age, particularly throughout adulthood. Science shows that we need to exercise our brains with different activities, similar to how we exercise our bodies to stay strong and healthy. In the same way that different types of physical exercise work out different muscle groups, mixing up your daily activities provides a form of ‘exercise’ for your brain that keeps it functioning at its best. 

A 2022 study published by the US Centre for Healthy Minds found that adults who participated in a wide range of daily activities had a larger hippocampus. The hippocampus is one of the key brain areas responsible for memory and learning. People with a larger hippocampus tend to be better at learning new skills and recalling memories, which is crucial for healthy ageing. 

Get creative to prevent boredom

Trying new creative hobbies is a great way to prevent feelings of boredom and monotony. A psychology study conducted during the pandemic showed that people who pursued creative activities felt more optimistic, happier and benefited from higher self-esteem. In contrast, people who didn’t try to enjoy creative hobbies during the pandemic were more likely to experience boredom, anxiety and depression.

Satisfying your brain’s need for variety through creative pursuits doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have artistic skills or special equipment. Simple activities such as making greeting cards at home, baking, or solving a jigsaw puzzle can lead to positive psychological benefits. The most important thing is to choose everyday creative outlets that you enjoy and look forward to doing in your spare time. 

Spice up your social life

Another way to add some spice to your life is by adding some variety to your social circle. While we know that socialising with friends, family, or colleagues is good for our well-being, sometimes it can start to feel dull or monotonous if you always see the same people and do the same things together. Finding new ways to socialise helps keep things fresh and exciting, and research shows that it can also improve mental performance as we age.

A 2022 psychology study by the University of California found that people who enjoyed a wider variety of social activities demonstrated better memory, learning, attention and decision-making. Try mixing up your habits by asking people in your circle to meet up somewhere new or go to an organised event together. Alternatively, you could add some variety and expand your social group by reaching out to an acquaintance or talking to the barista at your favourite coffee shop. 

Daily detours can improve your mood 

Getting off the beaten track can also provide your brain with some much-needed variety. Scientists at New York University found that people with more variety in their daily movements experienced better moods. They used GPS trackers to show that people felt happier on days that they explored new places or took different routes, compared with days when they stayed in the same location or only visited familiar locations. 

Exploring new locations can be as easy as taking a new route home or to the grocery store, visiting a different park, or riding a bike through an unfamiliar neighbourhood. Even small changes in your everyday movements will help to add novelty to your daily routine, encouraging your mind to stay active and present. 

What if I have a tight schedule?

Sometimes circumstances in our lives prevent us from engaging in new experiences. Fortunately, techniques involving social connection and novelty are some of the most powerful tools we have to protect our mental health during busy or boring periods of life. A study of astronauts on long-duration space missions found that social connection was one of the key factors that helped counteract loneliness and social isolation. Additionally, learning new skills and ongoing training helped balance the boredom of the repetitive daily tasks they had to complete. 

If you don't have much freedom with your schedule, try to integrate some novelty into monotonous activities. For example, if you have to drive or commute long-distance, try to find new podcasts or playlists to listen to on your journey. If you have to spend a few hours cleaning, calling a friend while you work might provide an opportunity to socialise and help the time pass quicker. 

Summarising the psychology of spice

  1. Science shows that novelty and variety make you happier and provide a form of ‘exercise’ for your brain that keeps it functioning at its best.
  2. Try spicing up your life by pursuing creative hobbies, expanding your social circle, or exploring unfamiliar places.
  3. Seeking new experiences will stimulate your brain and keep you mentally sharp!