The surface of the earth is nearly 200 million square miles. That’s a lot of space to explore. But according to recent research, most of us just regularly visit the same 25 places over and over again.
The smallness of that number might surprise you, but it comes from a study that meticulously tracked the phone location data of more than 40,000 people over several years. Sure, every once in a while people might take a one-off vacation to Mallorca or Miami, but for the most part, we each have about 25 regular spots where we spent the vast, vast majority of our time.
The scientists behind the story suggested this tendency to stick to the familiar may be the geographical equivalent of Dunbar’s number, the social science rule that states human beings simply are not wired to handle more than 150 significant social relationships at any one time.
But whether our tendency to stick to 25 places is hardwired into us or not, new science offers strong encouragement to push back against your tendency to continually retread the same paths and visit the same old places.
Our brains crave new experiences …
As psychologist Alison Gopnik explained recently in the Wall Street Journal, in 2020 scientists conducted a different sort of phone location data study. This one didn’t just track how far people roamed; it also tracked how they felt afterward. The findings were stark.
“The researchers analyzed the GPS data with a measure called “roaming entropy,” which captures how new, varied, and unexpected your locations are, and compared it with the mood ratings. More roaming entropy predicted more well-being. What’s more, how much you wandered on a given day predicted how happy you were later on, but not vice versa. So it looks as if wandering makes you happy, not just that when you’re happy you wander more,” Gopnik writes, summing up the results.
Or to put that very simply: the farther you roam, the happier you’ll be. And this seems to be especially true for young people, and especially true for wandering into neighborhoods with different characters and socioeconomic backgrounds than your own home territory.