If You Need an Instant Dose of Happiness, Focus on This

Updated: Nov. 09, 2017

The next time you need to take a second to chill, visualizing this will help you get there.

BeachIakov Kalinin/ShutterstockWe all have our own tricks to boost our mood when we’re feeling down; these little tricks can make you feel a little bit happier every day. While there are certainly happy memories tied up in the wedding ring you and your spouse purchased together years ago or your teddy bear from childhood, new research finds that we typically feel calmer and experience a greater sense of well-being when we focus on a place that reminds us of happier times rather than a thing, even if it holds sentimental value.

The report, called Places That Make Us, was commissioned the United Kingdom’s National Trust (NT) and conducted by Surrey University’s researchers. Experts performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans on 20 volunteers and conducted an online survey of 2,000 people to better understand this deep draw toward special places. The results were groundbreaking, as they revealed such places don’t just make us feel happy, but create a sense of calm and completeness. (These 8 smells can also make you instantly happier.)

“Working with leading researchers and academics, and using cutting-edge fMRI brain technology, we examined how places affect people, how they become special, and why we feel a pull towards them,” explained Nino Strachey, head of research for the NT.

The 20 volunteers were shown images of landscapes, houses, and other locations, as well as personally meaningful objects. Measuring their brain activity, the researchers found that it was the places, as opposed to the objects, that caused the brain to get the most excited. The part of the brain linked with emotional responses, the amygdala, was specifically roused.

Volunteers were also interviewed at great length two times, once at home and the other time at their special place. According to the research, the favorite places evoked feelings of belonging, physical and emotional safety, and an intense internal pull to the place.

According to the report, 86 percent agreed “this place is part of me,” 60 percent felt “I feel safe here,” and 79 percent said they were “drawn here by a magnetic pull.”

Dr. Andy Myers, consultant on the research, weighed in on the findings, saying, “For the first time we have been able to prove the physical and emotional benefits of place, far beyond any research that has been done before. With meaningful places generating a significant response in areas of the brain known to process emotion, it’s exciting to understand how deep-rooted this connection truly is.”

Looking for your next happy place? Here are the top destinations for 2018, according to travel experts.