The Trick To Staying Happy

Ever catch yourself lamenting “If I only had more time!”?  What would you do with this extra time? Absolutely nothing? Doing nothing is a romantic notion, but we hope for the sake of your happiness you stay busy. People are happier when they are busy. According to a new study from the Association for Psychological Research, people are uncomfortable with idleness, and prefer to stay busy as long as that busy activity is justified by a purpose.

The study tested two hypothesis. First was that people who had any reason, even a minor one, would choose to be busy instead of doing nothing. The second was that people would rather stay busy with involuntary activities assigned to them by others, because that makes them happier than being forced to stay idle.

In an experiment testing the first hypothesis, 98 college students took a survey, and were given the choice of dropping off their surveys at two locations while they waited for the next survey. One drop-off location required a fifteen minute walk while another was in the immediate vicinity. Each student was given a piece of chocolate as a reward for dropping off their surveys. Since this experiment tested the hypothesis of justifying one’s busy activity with a purpose, there were two conditions. In one condition, student were offered the exact same candy at both drop off locations, eliminating the incentive to walk fifteen minutes to the faraway drop off point. The second condition, students were offered different candy options at each location, giving an extra justification for walking to the faraway location.

Data was collected and students were then surveyed about how they felt. Conclusions showed that when given a justification (choice of different candy), more people opted for the busy activity (walking to the faraway drop-off point). Further, those who chose the faraway drop off location, which is the option to stay busy, reported feeling happier than those who chose the idle option.

The second experiment tested the hypothesis that forced busyness made people happier than forced idleness. Conditions were similar to the first experiment, except that participants were either assigned to a busy option (walking to the faraway location to drop off their surveys) or the idle option (staying close with nothing to do while waiting for the next survey). Once again, those who were kept busy reported being happier.

The implications of these findings are tied to happiness and personal choices for how to use one’s time. These findings offer explanations for people’s motivations to volunteer, catch up with friends, and engage in hobbies to pass the time.

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