Society has a serious “Novelty Syndrome” issue. We are creatures of habit and need routine, yet most of us feel pressure to constantly seek new things, or feel that newness and unfamiliarity will bring more happiness and fulfillment.
Novelty syndrome: the tendency to constantly seek novelty, believing it will bring more happiness and fulfillment, while avoiding familiarity.
Novelty vs. sustainable change
First, let’s make it clear that change is not always a bad thing, in fact it can be a blessing. Fear of change is damaging. It can cause you to avoid making changes when necessary. Big life changes are important in life. Sometimes they are out of our control and we must learn to deal with them, other times they are choices that we must make in order to adjust and improve.
Both types of changes involve bravery and taking a risk. The difference is the “high” verses the “commitment.”
“Novelty syndrome” is actually “fear of change” in disguise.
Novelty: Novelty is the initial rush of change. It’s the very first step. It typically comes from changing too many things at once, or temporarily changing something. The change never lasts once the thrill is gone.
Sustainable change: sustainable change is following through. Once the initial rush of change wares off, you continue taking steps and making adjustments. After the feeling of familiarity fades, you continue — rather than going backwards, crashing, or searching for more newness.
- Novelty: Maria is sick of her town so one night she packs all her bags and leaves without warning. She travels to a random city and has the time of her life making new friends and even meeting a new partner. Several months later, she finds herself feeling stuck again, so she packs her bags and decides to move to a new country. It takes her a few years to adjust to a new culture. Soon enough she finds herself feeling homesick and moves back home.
- Sustainable change: Ashley is sick of her town, feeling like she no longer belongs there. After thinking it over for a while, she saves up the funds to travel to a new state. It takes her several months to get the hang of things. Finally after a year or so, she feels like this is her true home. It was a lot of hard work but it was all worth it.
Boredom is a privilege that many of us are unable to afford. There is no reason to feel bored in life — instead you should feel lucky that you have the luxury of peacefulness.
Most of the time, “boredom” doesn’t actually mean true boredom — most who complain about “being bored” actually have a long list of things to do, it’s just that they’d rather not do it. It has more to do with “restlessness.”
Those who suffer from novelty syndrome are looking for a distraction from their true feelings. When you don’t want to face your emotions and thoughts, you’re always looking for some type of distraction. You may be too scared of real change, and instead you’re looking for a high, for a temporary interruption from reality.
Dopamine & addiction
Dopamine is a “feel-good” hormone associated with novelty-seeking. And “hormone” is just another word for “drug that your body makes.” So when you experience something brand new, dopamine levels shoot up, and you literally get high. Dopamine makes you feel excited, motivated, and happy.
- Low levels of dopamine lead to depression, schizophrenia, and psychosis. So those who suffer from these symptoms/illnesses are more likely to seek high rushes of dopamine.
- High levels of dopamine are just as unhealthy. This leads to aggression, competitiveness, impulsiveness, addiction, and ADHD.
- And both low and high levels lead to insomnia, muscle cramps, muscle stiffness, low libido, lethargy, lack of hope, and hallucinations.
So think of it this way — dopamine is a drug. The more you crave it, the harder you’ll try to have a surplus amount of it rush into your system. You overwhelm your body with dopamine (high level side affects) and then just like a drug, you experience a “dopamine crash,” causing your body to become depleted from dopamine (low level side affects.) You’re involved in a unhealthy cycle of dopamine highs and lows (both low/high level side affects) rather than a healthy balance.
Some people with unsteady levels of dopamine make a healthy choice to go through “dopamine fasts” — a period of detoxing. To literally abstain your body from any dopamine at all is physically impossible and would lead to death. What this actually means is “cutting back.” You quit drugs, alcohol, junk food, etc. You quit habits such as gambling, intercourse, self-harm, retail therapy, gossiping, risk-taking, etc. You limit use of technology, internet, TV, video games, social media, phone use, etc. You take a step back from pleasurable, instant rewards.
“One of the things that happens when people initially cut themselves off from these rewards … is that they suddenly become aware of themselves and their bodies in a new way,” Lembke said. “Without substances, screens or other stimuli to distract them, people suddenly become reacquainted with themselves, she said. “That, in fact, can be terrifying for people.”Live Science
What do all these addictive substances and habits have in common? NOVELTY!
- All of these habits can bring instant pleasure while involving “the unknown.”
- Drugs & alcohol can change your mindset in an instant, taking you away from your common “sober mindset.” And leads to unpredictable results.
- “Retail therapy” means buying things for the sake of comfort & pleasure — the novelty of a new product.
- Gossiping involves hearing “new information,” typically something surprising/shocking — which is really none of your business.
- Taking risk without prior thought brings on many unknowns, for better or (usually) worse.
- Technology such as phones and TV involve staring at a screen that is constantly changing. This also includes flipping through channels, flipping through song tracks or radio stations, etc.
Symptoms of “Novelty Syndrome”
- Symptoms of low, high, or both low and high dopamine levels (as stated above.)
- Uncomfortable with your own thoughts/feelings/emotions.
- Uncomfortable with silence and peacefulness.
- Uncomfortable with habits and familiarity.
- An urge to travel and take many vacations.
- Always feeling like “the grass is greener on the other side.”
- Can’t stay in one place for too long.
- Unable to meditate.
- Incapable of sustainable change.
- Constantly “starting over.”
- Giving up on projects as soon as you begin.
- Fear of commitment.
How society encourages “novelty syndrome”
Although taking personal responsibility is necessary, you should also be aware of society’s influence on the encouragement of novelty syndrome.
The following is a list of pressures put on us to seek novelty. Many of them are not so obvious.
- The way we eat — most cookbooks and recipes are highly complex. All of our meals, most especially dinners, are encouraged to have several courses, sides, toppings, etc. Eating “simple” is seen as childish and un-evolved.
- Most suffer from food aversions, allergies, and indigestion these days more than ever. I believe this is linked to excessive novelty of food. For example — it is said that “lactose intolerance” disappears the more often you eat dairy, and exaggerates to less you eat dairy. Another example is how people suffer more from indigestion while traveling and eating foreign foods. Eating novel food puts significant stress on our bodies.
- Consumer-based economy — living in an economy that thrives off retail therapy, products are intentionally made to break, with shorter shelf lives than necessary.
- Anti-recycling — we are not conditioned to recycle. And I’m not taking about throwing your trash in the recycling container instead of the dumpster. I’m talking about firsthand recycling — using old products for new use, such as containers or rags.
- Romanticizing traveling — traveling is romanticized for “escaping from the real world” or “going on vacation to relax/have fun.” But traveling is actually very stressful, expensive, and unhygienic.
- Hookup culture — the past few decades have descended into our current “hookup culture” — meaning that the expectation of marriage has disintegrated into boyfriend/girlfriend, which has now further disintegrated into casual hookups. No one wants to commit.
How to cure “novelty syndrome”
- The first step is always awareness. It takes A LOT to admit to yourself that you have novelty syndrome. Almost everyone suffers from this, yet a rare few will actually admit it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, especially knowing that society conditions us to be this way. Only when you have awareness of your problems, can you go ahead and take steps to fix it.
- “Dopamine fast” or a detox of instant gratification, instant pleasure, and addictions will rebalance your dopamine levels.
- But don’t just go cold turkey! For sustainable change, either focus on quitting one habit at a time, or wean yourself off of multiple addictions.
- Reach out to a professional if you’re struggling.
- Face yourself — this may be the “scariest” step. Relearn who you are. Get in touch with your emotions through mediation, prayer, journaling, etc. Make self-care a priority.
- Think about changes you need to make. Those who suffer novelty syndrome most likely need to change something. But it’s your fear of change that causes you to make sudden/unsustainable changes. Once you realize what needs to change for good, after deep introspection, go ahead and take practical steps.
- Have patience. Real change never happens overnight. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Breathe.