Buzzwords — or, to put it more palatably — approaches, whether in medicine, psychology, education, or the corporate world, are the proverbial dime a dozen. Depending on where the ideological pendulum is swinging, there’s a new (or old/revived) approach to doing or perceiving something. What many of these ideas have in common is an elemental truth: something about them works or has worked in the past. The degree to which they do work tends to be less a matter of what they are, and more related to the variables of things such as time and context in which they’re applied. One approach, experiential diversity — also described as the neuroscience of happiness — is an approach that is intriguing to us at Wilderwood.
At its basis, experiential diversity involves doing something different and, the theory goes, exposure to this new experience can result in increased feelings of happiness. As Jutta Joormann discussess in her article on the topic, doing something different can improve a sense of well-being. Much of the research on experiential diversity has drawn from animal observation (that fact alone is enough to pique our interest), including studies that have shown animals roaming freely “within environments that offer diverse experiences exhibit greater cognitive well-being — in other words, they exhibit increased social activity and an enhanced ability to respond to stressful or aversive situations” (Joorman, 2021; Tost et. al, 2015).
Experiential diversity is also associated with increased positive emotions, or what is termed an “upward spiral” (as opposed to depressive, downward spirals) of positive emotion (Joorman, 2021; Garland et. al, 2010). Barbara Sher, in her excellent book I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, illustrates this approach with the “Dog Sled Story,” a vignette that describes the outcome for a woman who did something completely different in her life and how that event opened opportunities — and the motivation for action — that had previously not existed.
We use this approach of experiential diversity for some of our participants here at Wilderwood. For many, encountering a horse up close is a first-time experience, as is learning about equine psychology, practical aspects of horse-care, and the art of riding a horse. Recently, several of our participants experienced and participated in these encounters with some remarkable results. Here is one of our participants who, electing to work with the horses one-on-one, has come so far in such a short amount of time!