Be happy. Become a tourist!

The tourism industry is growing rapidly all across the world. Everybody is a tourist these days (and a semi-professional travel blogger on Instagram). Research suggests that novelty seeking through travelling is not just great for your Instagram feed, but also for your personal well-being! In this post, we discuss a recent study by Chen and Yoon (2018) in which tourism was examined as a “pathway to the good life”.

Novelty seeking

Chen and Yoon (2018) examined the effect of novelty seeking through travelling on individuals’ life satisfaction. But what exactly is novelty seeking? Well, in the general sense, novelty seeking stands for the degree to which you want new experiences to differ from previous ones. With regard to tourism, it means that the motivation behind travelling is to see new things and to undertake new activities, rather than visiting familiar places. Consequently, novelty-seekers are more likely to be independent travellers, whereas familiarity-seekers probably go for an all-inclusive.

Thus, Chen and Yoon (2018) wanted to know whether travelling to gain new experiences (novelty seeking) influenced participants’ satisfaction with life.

The theory behind

How could novelty-seeking influence an individual’s satisfaction with life? There are two possible ways. On the one hand, we have got the bottom-up perspective. This perspective preaches: collect many happy experiences and you will become a happy individual. This way, the individual is able to influence his own life satisfaction.

On the other hand, we have got the top-down perspective saying: each individual has a tendency to look at experiences in a certain way and this is either positive or negative. The individual can collect many experiences, but if he looks at them in a negative way, this will not help him to become happier. Thus, the top-down perspective assumes that the individual is not able to entirely influence his satisfaction with life, due to his natural way of interpreting experiences.

Most studies examine the effect of novelty-seeking either from a bottom-up perspective or a top-down perspective. The study by Chen and Yoon (2018), however, combined the two. Thus, not only did they examine whether travelling more to collect new experiences leads to higher life satisfaction (bottom-up influence), but also whether looking positively at these tourism experiences leads to more life satisfaction (top-down influence).


The sample consisted of 556 American participants, that responded to questionnaires online. The majority of the respondents was female (51.1%) and aged between 20 and 69 years old (82.3%). In comparison to the general American population, the respondents were more often married (57.3% vs. 51.1%) and received higher education (80% vs. 55%). However, on average, the respondents earned a lower income (16% vs. 25.6% earned ≥$100.000).


Findings indicated that respondents with higher need for novelty seeking, perceived travelling as more beneficial and intended to travel more often. Furthermore, respondents who travelled more frequently tended to report higher life satisfaction. Both the bottom-up and top-down effects of novelty seeking on life satisfaction were found to be significant. Yet, the top-down effect appeared to be stronger than the bottom-up effect.


Thus, the findings suggest that collecting experiences does help to increase life satisfaction for a little bit, but in the end, the individual’s personality is more substantial. If the individual is not inclined to interpret the tourism experiences as positive, the effect on life satisfaction will not be strong.

However, it is important to mention that travel behaviour only explained 4% of the variance in life satisfaction. Thus, the overall effect of travelling on life satisfaction appears to be small. A couple of study limitations may explain this small percentage of explained variation. First of all, the sample is not a perfect representation of the American population. As pointed out by Chen and Yoon (2018), aspects such as income do play an important role in being able to travel as often as you would like.

Moreover, only travel frequency was assessed. Future research should consider to also include items on travel duration for instance. Imagine that a respondent has been travelling for half a year, but reports as travel frequency “once”. You would want to take the duration into account.

Something else that you would like to take into account are other personality traits of the respondents. In the present study, only novelty seeking was measured. Yet, many parts of an individual’s personality can affect how satisfied the person is with his life (consider levels of neuroticism or agreeableness for instance!).


Altogether, it appears that using travelling to gain new experiences has the potential to increase your satisfaction with life. The effect may not be strong, however, and more dependent of your personality. Future research should definitely continue to look into this and take elements such as income, travel duration and personality traits into account. For now, if you love to seek novelty, travelling might be a great way for you to gain life satisfaction. Try it out, become a tourist!

What do you think about the study by Chen and Yoon (2018)? Do you think that novelty seeking through travelling will explain more of the variance in life satisfaction when you take into account things like income, travel duration and personality traits? Are there other things to take into account as well? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

If you are interested in reading the literature used for this post, references and links are provided here:

Chen, C. C., & Yoon, S. (2018). Tourism as a Pathway to the Good Life: Comparing the Top–Down and Bottom–Up Effects. Journal of Travel Research, 0047287518775282.

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