It probably won't surprise anyone to hear that we humans are attracted to novelty. We instinctively reach out for the new shiny object, covet colorful trading beads, and are hard-pressed to resist another cute cat video. Routine and habit, the stuff of life, feel dull and drab without the occasional ray of variety shining through.
In the How of Happiness (which we highly recommend), author Sonja Lyubomirsky demonstrates how even our pursuit of happiness can become ineffective when it becomes unchanging. Say you have decided to keep a gratitude journal because you heard that doing so makes you happier. Each day you dutifully write down what you are thankful for, only to discover after a few weeks that your gratitude now feels like so much oatmeal—blah, blah, blah. According to studies, folks who only write in their gratitude journal once a week experience a greater boost in well being than their more ambitious counterparts. It turns out variety truly is the spice of life even when it comes to pleasure and things that make us happy.
Let's face it, shiny objects abound in this commercialized and media-saturated world of ours (BTW, here's another fun video). One thing to keep in mind is the difference between diversion and novelty. Diversions divert (surprise!). They take us off course and away from our intentions and goals. Well-timed diversions can be great for providing necessary breaks and offering us a chance to refresh—like a sherbet for the mind. However, too many or poorly timed diversions are energy leaks in our lives and prevent us from making headway on our goals. For example, twenty cat videos later and we have made absolutely no progress on this essay. (By the way, you are going to want to check out Maru, the Japanese Meryl Streep of cat videos.)
On the other hand, novelty can be designed into our routine as a way to both enhance an experience and help us make progress. Imagine one of your happiness practices is to perform an act of kindness several times a week. You decide to pay it forward at the toll booth, and the first time you do it you find it is both fun and gratifying. But by the third day it doesn't feel quite so special because you have already begun to adapt and anticipate what will happen. Time to mix it up! The more you can find new and creative ways to be kind, the more rewarding it will be. One day you decide to help a friend with a chore. Later in the week you offer a compliment to a stranger. The next week you volunteer at a local charity and so on. By introducing novelty into the process you are actually more likely to achieve your goal.
Cleaning out some files last week we came across some old papers which were fascinating to read. We didn't want to take the time to read through them right then and there (a diversion, n'est-ce pas?), so we set them aside to enjoy later. This got us to thinking about the novelty that lies like buried treasure right under our noses. How many times do we buy a book for the promise of some new enrichment only to put it on the bookshelf next to all our other unread books? What if next time we were looking for something good to read, we took a gander at our personal library, delved into our files, or poked around our journals? What if when we were hankering for something new to eat, wear, play with, or look at on the wall, we consulted our own pantry, closet, garage, or attic?
The key quality of a novelty is that it is new to us in the moment. Most of us have so much stuff that we have completely forgotten about significant portions of it. There's novelty gold to be mined by rediscovering what we already have. Our personal abundance (sometimes known as clutter) can be the source of both diversion and novelty. Next time you need a break, or you're in the mood for something new, instead of looking on Amazon, dive into the corner of your closet. Connect with the stuff you already have in your life and renew the enjoyment it brought you initially. If you find you no longer need or love it, it's probably time to pass it along to delight others.
What is in your closet these days? Find a drawer, a file, a box, a book you haven't opened up for a while and peek inside. What do you discover?
In what areas of your life might a little novelty be helpful, such as with your work, play, health, relationships, etc.? What are some ways you could introduce novelty to your routines? Novelty initially requires more effort than routine, so just pick one or two things to try at a time.
BTW, how many of the videos did you watch? Diversion or novelty?
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
Please pass this along to other interested people. Your feedback is much appreciated.
If you find our work useful or inspiring, consider making a gift via PayPal.