How Trying New Things Makes Us Happier

September 30, 2016

Is trying new things really one of the best ways to be happier everyday? Here's the science behind being happier just by trying new things out, from new hobbies and passion projects to setting new, exciting goals.
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Last summer, I promised myself something:

I would put myself way, way, way out of my comfort zone, even if just for the long summer we had.

Adventurous was never the word to describe me; I never really did things outside my comfort zone. Before last summer, the last time I’d done that of my own volition was when I decided to enroll in modern dance class after years of only ballet and jazz.

Embarrassing, I know.

Incidentally, that promise I made last summer ended up getting me into three pretty big “new things” in my life. In this exact order, the highlights are an actual workout schedule, a pro bono internship, and a side-hustle.

If there’s one thing I got out of this summer of really getting myself out there, it’s this:

Trying all those new things actually made me significantly happier.

A lot of research will probably tell you the same thing. But I’ve learned that we tend to take things like these more seriously when we hear them from somebody’s personal experience.

So I’m here to share mine today, in the hopes that you guys try out some new stuff on your own to see if it works for you.

Doing new things – things that really challenge you – gives you something to look forward to.

I mentioned that one of the things I told myself to get into this summer was working out. In particular, I decided to try high-intensity interval training (or, more popularly, HIIT) workouts three times a week.

As somebody who actively danced her entire life, you’d kind of think that working out regularly shouldn’t be much of a big deal. Actually, to me, it is.

There’s this shared feeling among my dance community where we agree that we can dance for hours and hours but despise running for even a minute. Same goes for workouts. A lot of us would rather just dance than to commit to a workout.

But, surprisingly, after my first couple weeks of doing HIIT, I found myself hooked. Not only that, I noticed something new in my mood:

I actually looked forward to pushing myself the next time I’d work out.

Don’t get me wrong. I still call my HIIT days as the worst thing I do to myself (in what I’d like to think is a joke). I’m not quite a fitness junkie quite yet. But I do notice that regularly working out, which was a new thing, got me excited for something.

I felt, well, happier – and not just because that’s a natural side effect to exercise. There’s this weird feeling of excitement that comes when I’m about to do – and finish – a HIIT workout.

I actually think what really fuels this excitement is the sense of achievement I get every single time I complete an entire workout successfully.

If you’re anything like me, you probably enjoy getting your gold star.

You live for the feeling of successfully finishing something, especially if you know what you just did wasn’t easy.

A workout regime, as intense and difficult as HIIT, gave me an avenue to pat myself on the back. It feels petty to some people probably, but it means something to me.

And because happiness is really a subjective thing, I figure you can go ahead and try out whatever the heck it is you want.

Doing new things that challenge us make us significantly happier. We know that we’re achieving something, even if it is personal. Committing to doing new things isn’t easy, given our daily schedules. But when we do them anyway, we feel so much better.

We’re surpassing the challenges that we ourselves jumped right into – painting better, smoking less, cooking more – and we enjoy it.

Novelty and challenge breed happiness.

Doing new things also makes you surprise yourself.

I always thought that being introverted was enough to know about myself.

In retrospect, I should have known that it was actually when I put myself in uncomfortable, uncertain situations that I really learned about me. What motivates me, what stresses me… How I handle pressure, how I deal with people…

Personally, I’m happiest when I’m improving as a person – when I know I’m getting better or getting a little more “perfect” every time.

That was the most important I reason I got into an internship over the summer. I wasn’t contented with cooping up in my room all summer and doing nothing. I wanted to put myself out there. An internship seemed like the best place to start.

After weighing my internship options, I decided on getting into a digital marketing campaigns team. It interested me the most, and I had a small interest in campaigns, especially digital ones.

So despite all my fears that I wouldn’t like what I’d do, the opposite happened. I had a lot of fun working for that internship. I learned things not just about the real digital marketing campaigns but also about myself.

If anything, I surprised myself.

One thing my bosses asked me on my first day was if I knew how to use Photoshop. My immediate answer was a hesitant “Uh, I know the basics, I think.” Which was true. I had minimal contact with anything graphics-related on my laptop.

Long story short, the next day, my boss ended up telling me he couldn’t believe I said I didn’t know how to Photoshop. At that moment, I learned something new about myself and was pleasantly surprised: I knew how to use Photoshop after all, even if what I knew were pretty basic stuff.

I think one thing we value a lot as people is learning these things about ourselves. Sometimes those observations turn into motivations to become better, more balanced persons. If we’re given the chance to get better at anything, we’ll take it.

You and I crave this. We feel more complete when we get to fill in the once-blank pieces in our lives.

And, naturally, this constant learning about ourselves drives us to be happier.

Doing new things does this for us: it gives us the opportunity to learn about ourselves. An internship did that for me. For you, it could be the same thing or something else.

Whatever it is, make sure you do something new, even if you just want to surprise yourself. Because you will.

It gets you hooked – and the cycle repeats.

The third new thing I mentioned I got into was freelancing. This was a huge, huge leap outside my comfort zone. I didn’t know where to start, how to get clients, and that sort of thing. But it was a challenge.

Besides, one motivation I had for getting into freelance writing was getting some extra cash (doing what I loved) over the summer – as well as having something to take up my spare time at home.

Some of us are aware of this really weird phenomenon:

The more free time we have on our hands, the more we don’t know how to use them.

I’m sure you and I have both struggled with having little to no things to do. We think it’s such a great thing to not have anything to do because we think we have more time to do things we actually want.

But sometimes that’s not always the case. We end up wasting all that free time.

The more I accepted client orders, the more I realized I allotted my time better. I knew I had deadlines to deal with outside my internship, so I made better use of time. That led to a little order in my life, and I actually developed a work schedule, incorporating different tools and apps that helped me get my entire life together.

I notice that having a certain order in my day-to-day life makes me significantly happier. When I had a lot of things to do, I was smarter in making use of my time. In effect, I actually had more time to really do what I wanted – say, watch a movie or write a blog. And that really made me happy.

The feeling of that order, of that complete control over my time and my life, and the joy I got from it was addicting.

I learned I liked having that good habit of managing time well. I learned I liked coming out of a productive day with time for some much-deserved rest and relaxation.

It seemed almost unbelievable that I got so much joy from trying a new thing that involved actual work. More than anything, I wanted to keep going, and the cycle of try-learn-grow repeated itself.

And that’s the best part – happiness breeds more happiness.

It just goes to show you that we do find happiness in the trying of new things, even if we aren’t sure it’s where we’ll be happy in the first place. But the truth is this:

We’re never going to know if a new hobby, a new job, a new anything is going to be right for us.

But we’ll never know if we never try.

Leave me a comment:

What new things do you want to try in the next 30 days?

ABOUT Mica Gonzalez

Mica (hey, that's me!) provides resources for content creators and creative entrepreneurs to design their days with more purpose, impact, and creativity.

Her workshops, courses, and programs are all designed with her commitment to slow growth, anti-hustle culture, and success on our own terms.

When she's not referring to herself in the third person on her blog, she's sharing cool things she's into and up to on Instagram @micaangelicagonz.


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