Jamie Littlefield
Source: Jamie Littlefield

Want to feel calm and connected? Rather than rummaging through your box of beloved trinkets, you may want to consider visiting a place that holds meaning to you.

Humans often use sentimental items to remind ourselves of happy times and connect with our past.

But new research from The National Trust in coordination with the University of Surrey shows that visiting places we love may be more influential to our well-being than possessions we own.

This unique study included brain scans of participants shown a variety of pictures, including images of places with personal meaning:

“This response to special places was found to be much higher in the amygdala (a key area in the brain known to process emotion) than our response to meaningful objects, such as a wedding ring or photograph. Therefore, we can conclude that significant places more likely contain greater emotional importance than objects, as areas in our brain involved in emotional processing respond more strongly to significant places”

Two-thirds of study participants agreed that meaningful places made them feel calm. Sixty-three percent claimed that they felt joy when visiting places meaningful to them. Twenty-eight percent said visiting meaningful places made them feel energized.

A feeling of connection was particularly associated with locations, as the majority of participants claimed that meaningful places made them feel like they belong, and that these places felt like “a part of them.”

The most meaningful places were found to be connected with participants’ formative years, cherished relationships (i.e., experiences with family members and friends), and the here and now. Simply living in a city or a town can help you begin creating meaning in the places around you. 

The research summarizes the "pull" people report feeling when drawn to a place: “Over three-quarters of people (79 percent) report experiencing an internal pull that drives them to visit their meaningful place . . . We can hypothesize that the feelings a place evokes underpins this deep visceral connection and can range from feelings of calm, joy and contentment to energy, discovery and a sense of identity and belonging."

So, the next time you need a pick-me-up, skip the shopping. Instead, try visiting a beloved park from your childhood, a landmark you used to visit with a loved one, or a favorite street near your home. Many places are free to explore, and the surge of positive feelings they evoke may surprise you.

References

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