Full Life Reflections

Striving for happiness, peace, and fulfillment in a chaotic world

I recently concluded a three-part series on essentials for happiness and peace (see HERE, HERE, and HERE), and I continue to give a lot of thought to practices that help us to experience more calm and fulfillment in our lives. In my last post, I included the following brief reader comment on the importance of novelty for her personal happiness:

“One thing that jumps out to me that I would add as a helpful practice/concept is novelty, which I view as seeing, trying, doing and thinking new things.”

The concept of novelty wasn’t something I considered when putting together my own list of helpful practices, but it has come into play for me at least twice in the past couple of weeks. In today’s post, I explain why novelty can help us to be happier while also mitigating the all too common phenomenon of time “speeding by” as we age. I will also share two novel experiences I’ve had this month, highlighted by some of my favorite photos taken to commemorate those times (you can see many of my previous photos HERE).

Why Does Time “Fly”?

As you look at your calendar, do you find yourself thinking, “I can’t believe it’s almost May! Where did the time go?” I know that I have had such thoughts many times, and the incidence of these sentiments has increased for me as I’ve gotten older. It often feels like my life is virtually racing by. This both scares me and gives me pause, but I never really understood why time seems to have sped up as I entered into my forties and fifties (I’ll be 53 in August). It wasn’t until I heard a podcast interview with time management expert Laura Vanderkam that I had any inkling as to what was going on.

It turns out that our experience of time going by faster has to do with a lack of novelty in our lives. Most people become very set in their ways as they age and they develop hard and fast routines that are followed on a daily basis. We tend to become comfortable with the way we live our lives and don’t often try new things or vary how we spend our time. Because of the way our brains work, this leads to the subjective feeling of time going by fast.

As Laura Vanderkam explains in the second chapter of her book, Off the Clock (which I’m currently reading and am finding fascinating…), as powerful as our brains are, it’s too unwieldy to catalog every single data point from our daily 16 to 18 waking hours. Consequently, the brain decides which information is useful to remember at a later date and it culls out all repetitive data. If we do the same thing every day, we won’t actually remember most of those days. For example, if we drive the same exact route each workday, those hundreds of trips will be “telescoped” into our memory as one single trip. If we do many types of repetitive activities each day or week, we’ll have a lot of telescoped memories, and this lack of distinct memories leads to the feeling that time is going by rapidly. We’re simply not remembering all that much of our days, weeks, months, and years due to this “sameness.”

This is Where Novelty Comes In…

If we want to slow down our subjective passage of time, we need to incorporate more novelty into our lives, as the memories that stand out are those that involve newness or intensity. Think about it… Can you remember a day when you did something special and that day seemed to last longer than most other days? If so, it’s probably because there was a lot about that particular day that was different from your usual routine. Therefore, your brain had an abundance of novel information to catalog and hold on to for future reference. When you look back upon such days, many memories are recalled and relived.

This is true for all types of novel and memorable days, both good and bad. I’m sure many of you remember where you were and what you were doing on days when you heard difficult news, such as the death of a loved one or a national disaster. We also frequently remember what we did on our last birthday or on Christmas, whereas we probably don’t remember what we were doing on December 15th (unless, of course, that’s a notable day for us).  Not only are holidays and birthdays special days for most people, we don’t generally engage in our typical activities on such days. We’re usually doing something extraordinary and memorable like enjoying a special meal or celebrating with friends and family.

It’s not too surprising that my reader mentioned novelty as something that increases her sense of happiness and peace. When she’s seeing, trying, doing, and thinking new things, time is likely slowing down for her and she’s experiencing more enjoyment in life. She’s also likely to remember her novel experiences much more than the details of mundane existence. I’m willing to bet that she also feels more alive when she’s either engaged in novel activities or looking back on them.

How Much Novelty?

Of course, we can only experience so many holidays and vacations. Most people have to go to work and do regular chores and maintenance activities. But fortunately, a little novelty can go a long way, and we can inject bits of novelty into our day-to-day lives. In Off the Clock, Laura Vanderkam offers some suggestions for turning bits of time into bits of joy, including the following:

  • Park in a different lot than usual and walk through a new neighborhood.
  • Eat a meal in your backyard on a warm summer day.
  • Leave work a bit early and meet your spouse for a drink.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper on a night when you usually watch TV.
  • Visit a store you’ve driven by many times and have always been intrigued about.
  • Invite a friend to take a short hike with you in a nearby state park.

There are many things we can do to incorporate novelty in our lives. Even switching the order in which we do things can shift our experience of a given day. It doesn’t take a lot to make our days more memorable, but it’s also fun to do the bigger things once in a while, such as taking a day trip or going on an out of town holiday. I have done both of these things in the past few weeks and it definitely helped me to feel more invigorated and alive. It also makes me feel like April 2019 didn’t go by quite as rapidly as March.

A Multi-Day Getaway…

Earlier this month, I went to Nashville, Tennessee, for five days to meet up with a dozen or so friends who I met through the Facebook group I started back in 2015 related to my previous blog, Recovering Shopaholic (the group was turned over to new management two years later).  This was the third time I met up with this group of women – the first meetup took place in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2016 (chronicled in this post) and the second meetup was held the following year in San Diego, where I live. I have thoroughly enjoyed all three of these gatherings and I hope we’ll continue to make it an annual (or close to annual) occurrence.

I feel that I packed a whole lot of novelty and experience into my time in Nashville, and I have many happy memories that I can reflect back upon. The trip included a nice mix of visiting tourist attractions and enjoying relaxing meals and conversations with dear friends. The days when I was away definitely seemed longer than my usual days at home and the trip at large felt like it encompassed more days than it actually did. I also recaptured my joy of taking photos while on this trip, probably because I liked having new places to photograph. Here are some of my favorite photos from this wonderful getaway:

Broadway, Nashville, Tennessee

The World Famous Broadway in Nashville, Tennessee

Rooftop Bar on Broadway, Nashville, Tennessee

One of many rooftop bars on Broadway in Nashville

Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee

Nissan Stadium, Home of the Tennessee Titans Football Team

View from Broadway Rooftop Bar, Nashville, Tennessee

View from the rooftop bar at twilight on a rainy day

Gaylord Opryland Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee

Inside the famous Gaylord Opryland Hotel

Giant Guitar inside the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee

Me with a giant guitar inside the Gaylord Opryland Hotel

Union Station Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee

Union Station Hotel, a converted train station

Inside the Union Station Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee

Gorgeous architecture inside the Union Station Hotel

Belle Meade Plantation, Nashville, Tennessee

Belle Meade Plantation, just outside Nashville

Belle Meade Plantation, Nashville, Tennessee

Another view of the Belle Meade Plantation

The Parthenon, Nashville, Tennessee

A Nashville replica of the original Parthenon in Athens, Greece

The Parthenon, Nashville, Tennessee

Another view of the Parthenon, a very impressive building!

The Hermitage, Nashville, Tennessee

The Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson

The Hermitage, Nashville, Tennessee

A closer view of The Hermitage

The Hermitage, Nashville, Tennessee

The grounds of the Hermitage

The Hermitage, Nashville, Tennessee

Beautiful flowers on the grounds of The Hermitage

… And an Enjoyable Day Trip

Last Sunday (Easter), my husband and I decided to take a drive out to Borrego Desert for the day. We had wanted to do this for several weeks, but kept getting derailed by home improvement tasks (the joys of home ownership…). The window of opportunity to enjoy the desert before the scorching summer heat was rapidly closing, so we’re glad we opted to make the drive when we did. Borrego Desert is approximately a two-hour drive from where we live, but it’s really a world away. The climate and landscape is vastly different from what we have here in San Diego, and I like the quiet beauty of the desert. I always feel more peaceful there, away from the buzz of the city and the associated throngs of people and cars.

While we were out in the desert, we took a short hike on the Palm Canyon Trail, which is three miles long and extends up the hills into a canyon framed by tall palm trees. We didn’t take many photos of this jaunt, but here are a few (you can see several more via the above link), including one of me looking happy in my favorite colors (cobalt and black, but of course).

Palm Canyon Trail, Borrego Desert

Palm Canyon Trail, Borrego Desert

Palm Canyon Trail, Borrego Desert

Debbie Roes on the Palm Canyon Trail, Borrego Desert

In Praise of More Novelty

I typically take only one or two overnight trips per year and it’s often to visit my family in the Lake Tahoe area. I would like to travel to at least one new place per year moving forward, but I’d also like to take more day trips as well. My husband and I agreed that we’d like to do monthly day trips, and we made a list of places to visit, some of which are new to us and others that we’d like to revisit and view through new eyes. It’s a lot easier logistically to do day trips than longer excursions, so we believe it’s doable to keep up with our monthly goal.

Of course, novelty doesn’t only have to include travel or even day trips. In addition to the Laura Vanderkam ideas that I mentioned above, I have some ideas of my own on how to incorporate more novelty into my life, including:

  • Go for a walk in an unexplored part of town.
  • Go to coffee or lunch somewhere new, even alone.
  • Take my computer to a coffee shop to write rather than doing it at home.
  • Rearrange my routine so that it’s not so routine.
  • Pick a place at random on a local map and go there.

Your Thoughts?

I’m sure there are many other possibilities and I’d love to get your ideas. I definitely want to slow down my experience of time and have more memories to reflect on as time goes by. Here’s to more novelty, happiness, and fulfillment!

Please feel free to share your thoughts on the topics addressed in this post. I always enjoy reading what you have to say – and I learn a lot from you! For those who particularly enjoy my wardrobe-related posts, you’re in luck, as my next essay will be on that subject. I’m hoping to get back to writing here more often, as some things in my life are shifting and I can make this blog more of a priority again. If you have ideas for topics you’d like me to cover, I’m always open to suggestions.

16 thoughts on “The Importance of Novelty for Happiness and Fulfillment

  1. Tara C says:

    Trips and exploring new parts of town are the main ways I like to bring novelty and adventure into my life. I discovered a great view point near my house in San Diego two months ago that I was totally unaware of despite having lived there for over two decades. I often pick new ways to walk home in Montreal so I can see new houses, parks and stores. And we try to take at least one week-long trip a year and a few day trips to mix up the routine. There is so much to explore, yet it’s so easy to get bogged down in routine. I don’t care about making my life seem longer but I do like it less boring. And the memories we create can be enjoyed over and over again.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      The new view point sounds cool, Tara. We can often be so set in our ways with the places we go to that we can miss out on some great places very near to where we live. I lived in the same area in San Diego for 16 years and usually went to the same few places. Since we moved last June, we’ve explored a lot of new places and found some cool new walks, although we still do the old ones from time to time as well. It sounds like you’ve found some great ways to break up your routine. I’m more interested in life not feeling boring than having it seem longer, too. If you have any good ideas for day trips in the San Diego area, let me know. There are probably a lot more places to check out than we realize.

  2. Sally says:

    Hi Debbie

    I really like your photos and it’s good that you have decided to try some new, novel things.

    My husband and I moved from the UK to Australia 10 years ago, for a change of life. We really wanted to make the most out of living here and have taken lots of road trips and short flights exploring Australia. Also, we used to try to go out for the day somewhere most Saturdays and then spend Sunday relaxing, as work the next day.

    We also pushed ourselves out of our comfort zone and did things we wouldn’t normally have done, for example we did the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, Hot Air Balloon ride, Seaplane trips and Helicopter trips. Some of the places we have been to are the Australian Outback, driving on red dirt roads with wild emu and kangaroos all around us, snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, swimming with turtles, exploring the Daintree Rainforest, sitting on the beach on Phillip Island at sunset, seeing the little fairy penguins come out of the sea and waddle past us and go to their burrows, cuddling and feeding baby orphan wombats that have been rescued at a wombat sanctuary, cuddling koalas in Queensland. We have taken many wonderful photos that we have shared with our friends and family in the UK and so that we can look back on them to remember all that we have done.

    When I used to tell people at work where we had been, many of these people were born in Australia, with all this on their doorstep, but they had never been to the places we explored or done the things that we had done, which seemed such a shame, as they had taken it all for granted.

    As you are looking for ideas for your monthly day trips from San Diego, I searched and found this website with a list of the 7 best locations within 2 hours of San Diego to take photographs.

    One is the Borrego State park, which you have just been too, but there may be some others that you would enjoy. In particular I really liked the photos of the Joshua Tree State park and the Salton Sea and I thought that these places might appeal to you too, if you haven’t already been there.

    http://blog.frankiefoto.com/2013/01/best-photography-day-trips-from-san-diego/

    Have fun exploring and taking photos
    Best wishes
    Sally

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      It seems like you and your husband have enjoyed a lot of wonderful adventures since you moved to Australia, Sally! I’ll know who to ask when my husband and I FINALLY take a trip there (it’s been on our list for years…). Everything you mentioned sounds great, but I would especially enjoy cuddling the baby koalas and feeding the baby wombats. I know what you mean about natives not doing a lot of the things you’ve done in much shorter order. That could be said for me growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area. I lived there for over 20 years before I ever visited Alcatraz! Thank you for sharing that link with me. That person’s photos are gorgeous! I have been to all of the places mentioned, but I would gladly visit all of them again. I actually got married on Catalina Island, right in front of the “casino” that’s shown (casino means “meeting place,” so there is no gambling there). I haven’t been to Joshua Tree in years, so maybe that should be soon on the list. We went to the Salton Sea last year, but there is more to explore there than we saw that one day. Lots of potential adventures! I hope you enjoy many more yourself.

  3. Gail says:

    I usually feel too tired to travel, but I go anyway and…love it when I do!
    Being 72, time flies by incredibly fast–too fast–but I have another theory to add to the lack of new adventures, which I do agree with: the relative length of any time period–a day, a week, a year–to the rest of your life changes as you age, obviously, since you have lived longer. so it seems a year, which to a child of 5 is so very long a time period– one fifth of his/her life–is short to an elderly person of 75–only one seventy-fifth of his/her life.
    Your photos are beautiful, Debbie, and I am still thinking about that last blog post. I want to digest it and write a response, but it isn’t happening. Right now I am experiencing long car travel and definite change in routine, but not in a good way. I am a true homebody and finding myself longing for that dull, boring routine.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I often resist doing things, too, Gail, because of my myriad health challenges. But when I push myself to do things, I’m almost always glad that I did. You’re right on with your alternate theory on time passing by quickly. I think the “relative length of time” issue definitely comes into play, as well as the lack of novelty that’s common for older people. I’m glad you like my photos and you’re welcome to comment on my last post at any time, even if it’s weeks later. So far, I haven’t had to close out comments after three weeks like I did on “Recovering Shopaholic” (less traffic and spam on this site), so people can comment whenever they want. In regards to routine, I need that, too. I feel like I need a balance between routine and novelty that can be difficult to find. Like you, I’m also a homebody, but I want my time at home to be “punctuated” by periodic adventures 😉

  4. Katrina says:

    Great insights by you and your reader! Interestingly, some of the times in my adult life that I would describe as most joyful were those when I was up to my ears in novelty. It’s just that those times also involved stress-related illness because there was just too much happening. It’s always a balancing act to know just how much is enough to enjoy and not get sick. I do like to do some of the small things like take a turn down a different street in my daily walk, and I’m working on my “ladies who lunch” to try a new restaurant once in a while.

    Your photos are fantastic. I never made it to Nashville in my travels so it’s nice to see your view of the place.

    P.s. O.M.G. your hair!!! So gorgeous!!!

    1. Sally says:

      Hi Katrina,

      I can relate to having a limited amount of energy in the day to complete various tasks and activities due to stress related illness and I was recommended to use the Spoon Theory to better manage my energy.

      “The Spoon Theory”, a personal story by Christine Miserandino, is popular among many people dealing with chronic illness. Energy, for people with chronic illness, is limited and depends on many factors including stress levels, how we’re sleeping, and pain and must be rationed to avoid running out before the end of the day. Spoons are a visual representation used as a unit of measure in order to quantify how much energy a person has throughout a given day. Each activity requires a given number of spoons, which will only be replaced as the person “recharges” through rest. A person who runs out of spoons has no choice but to rest until their spoons are replenished. Miserandino also asserted that it is possible to exceed one’s daily limit, but that doing so means borrowing from the future and may result in not having enough spoons the next day.

      Here is a link to an infographic which explains simply what this theory is and how to use it:

      https://www.burningnightscrps.org/using-spoon-theory-explain-chronic-illness/

      I hope you find this useful to balance your energy to know just how much is enough to enjoy and not get sick.

      Best Wishes
      Sally

      1. Katrina says:

        Hi Sally, thank you for the link to the spoon infographic! I had a friend explain the spoon theory last year and I looked up Miserandino’s story. I was grateful on my friend’s behalf because I thought it was such a perfect way for her to explain her struggles with chronic illness. Yet it didn’t occur to me for many months that it was exactly what I was also struggling with every day! So funny how we can see others very clearly but not see ourselves at all.

        Anyway thank you for the link, and for the reminder to measure my spoons.

    2. Debbie Roes says:

      I feel you on this, Katrina. I really crashed in terms of my health after I returned from my Nashville trip. I knew it would happen, but I go away so infrequently that I pushed myself more than I should have. I wanted to pack in as much fun as I could in that short period of time because most of my life is spent at home in relative boredom. I agree with you that it’s a balancing act and I like the “spoon theory” that Sally wrote about in her comment. That story explains so well what those of us who have chronic illness deal with all the time. We’re always having to make compromises with how we spend our time. Even things that don’t SEEM taxing require spoons and sometimes more than we think. I’m amazing sometimes at how drained I get by social media as one example. Cutting back on my time there has helped me a lot in terms of my energy levels. I like your idea of trying new restaurants and that’s something I like to do, too. I’m going to veer off the usual path on my walks, too, for a little mini adventure 🙂

      Thank you for your kind words on my photos and my hair! It’s a relief to finally be in a better place with my hair. I look forward to when I can have a long silver braid over my shoulder…

  5. Sam says:

    Thank you for this series (I’m including your posts on depression) and the beautiful photos!
    I’ve been thinking I should do just what you suggested for yourself, especially “Rearrange my routine so that it’s not so routine” – I’m finding your other suggestions a little more challenging since I don’t like leaving my cat alone when I don’t HAVE to (errands and work) unless she is sleeping, which of course she does quite a lot. So I went for a walk this morning with a thought for all this helpful conversation 🙂

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I’m glad you have enjoyed this series, Sam. I do think this is kind of like post #4 in my depression and anxiety series… I get what you’re saying about your cat. I don’t like to leave mine alone, either. One thing that has helped is installing web cams in my house so I can check on them if I’m gone for a few hours or on a trip (when we travel, we have a pet sitter come by twice a day). It’s nice to be able to see them and make sure they’re okay (I can be a worrier). They do tend to mostly sleep when we’re gone, which has been verified by the web cams. Knowing this makes it a bit easier to be away from them. I’m glad you went for a walk and I hope you find some fun ways to rearrange your routine.

  6. Sam says:

    Thank you Debbie for your advice, I hadn’t thought about web cams and will ask my son if he can help with this. When I find some really interesting ways to rearrange my routine, I’ll share them here. I’m seeing a psychologist who is helping me speak about past hobbies / passions (such as poetry, translation, and calligraphy) as I am struggling with grieving my Dad. I did take once a photo of a swan after one of those conversations (it’s actually hung next to your beautiful sunset), but of course it’s taking me some time to truly feel creative again. Your posts are a great help and I hope you reach your goals as a health coach!

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Your swan photo sounds lovely, Sam. I’m still honored that you have my sunset photo up in your home! I’m glad you’re seeing a therapist for help with your grief. I can only imagine how hard it is to lose a parent and I can understand how your creativity may be dampened when dealing with such a deep loss. It sounds like you had some wonderful hobbies in the past and I hope you can find joy in them again, as well as find a routine that works well for you. Please write again and let me know how you’re doing. Thank you for your kind words and encouragement.

  7. Jayne says:

    Thanks for this great post Debbie. And a lot more food for thought re time flying buy and how to introduce more novelty. I also would like to say your photos are AMAZING and you are looking fantastic. Best wishes, Jayne.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I’m glad you found this post helpful, Jayne, and I think you so much for your kind words about my photos – and me! Best wishes to you, too.

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