Search for Serotonin
A Happiness Expert's Guide to Mood-Elevating Excursions
Will traveling to one of the world’s happiest countries improve your mood? Before you book that flight to Finland — currently the world’s most contented country according to a report released by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations — here’s what a happiness expert says about boosting your serotonin on the road. Christine Carter, Sociologist and Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkeley says that happy travels are far from one-size-fits-all. The trick, she says, is tailoring your trip to your specific needs.
Sleep depleted? Stay close-ish to home, or at least in the same time zone, says Carter. “Do not take a red eye if you’re already exhausted and whatever you do, don’t travel across multiple time zones. It’s impossible to lead your best life when you’re exhausted,” she says. “Stay as close as possible to your circadian rhythm. People hate to hear this but if you’re exhausted and go to Bali, it’s going to take you weeks to recover,” she says. “It’s also important to know your personal booby traps. If you truly need rest, find hotels without Internet access if you’re easily distracted with social media, etc.” Tip: Search for a stay that encourages rest. At L’Auberge de Sedona in Arizona, the focus is on recharging mind and body with activities like yoga, meditation and forest bathing, where guests are guided through nature at twilight to calm all of the senses.
Well & Good
“If what you need most in your life is a greater sense of meaning or fulfillment, thenvoluntourism is a great idea,” says Carter. “It can put you in touch with the power you have to help others.” Research shows that volunteering has been shown to improve your mood, lower stress and even increase life span. Combining volunteering with travel is no less beneficial, says Carter. Tip: Discover Corps offers a wide range of volunteer opportunities around the world.
“You may not get a lot of comfort from visiting a developing country, but if you have a meaningful experience volunteering there, you might feel a sense of peace and contentedness that you’ve never felt before.”
– Christine Carter
Sociologist and Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkeley
Short on serotonin? Carter recommends seeking a sense of awe. “One of the best ways to do this is to find transcendence that comes from the natural world,” she says. And you don’t have to travel to the far ends of the earth to reap the benefits: Even a 20-minute walk through an urban park can have a positive impact on mood. Research also shows that it’s not just the Grand Canyon and Northern Lights that activate awe: Viewing nature at its most destructive — volcanoes, tornadoes — also has the power to make us happier.
Eat, Drink, Repeat
So is there any reason to visit the world’s happiest countries? “One argument would be that emotions are very contagious, so if you are among locals who have a very high level of wellbeing, their happiness is likely to cue our own nervous system,” says Carter. “If you’re going to Bhutan because you want to be happy, however, you’re going to have to hang out with Bhutanese people.” Finland recently launched a campaign to do just that. Rent a Finnpairs tourists and locals (known as “happiness guides”) to explore the country’s natural wonders, food and culture. While all spots have been taken for 2019, here’s a quiz designed to help anyone optimize happiness while visiting the country.