Why Busywork Makes You Happy

A new study published in the journal Psychological Science has found that people have "two concurrent, yet paradoxical and conflicting, desires: They (a) dread idleness and desire busyness, but (b) need reasons for their busyness and will not voluntarily choose busyness without some justification."


Essentially, people don't like doing nothing, but also don't like doing things for no reason.  To test the competing desires of idleness and activity, researchers Christopher Hsee, Adelle Yang and Liangyan Wang asked nearly a hundred college students fill out surveys. Between surveys, participants were told either to drop off the paperwork a fifteen-minute walk away or to wait fifteen minutes doing nothing. After the fifteen minutes of activity or idleness, the participants were again surveyed, this time on their happiness over the intervening period.  Those who went for the walk (the busier option) were happier.  A second test took away the component of choice, instructing some participants to remain idle and others to take the walk.  The results yielded similar results, meaning regardless of volition, busyness makes one happier than idleness.

Should you think the results are dependent on the ambulatory event across campus, the results were matched by another test involving taking apart or not taking apart a trinket. Most intriguing, the researchers add, "even a specious justification can motivate people to be busy."  This is somewhat redeeming for low-level busyness, or "futile busyness" as it is called in the report, which serves "no purpose other than to prevent idleness." While such intentional industry, even when impotent, may make you happier, the drive toward idleness remains strong, the study says. 

The study concludes by speculating on the application of paternalism in providing such specious justification.  "Governments," the study speculates, "may increase the happiness of idle citizens by having them build bridges that are actually useless."  The researchers say, "some such interventions already exist," noting a study that "Airports have tried to increase the happiness (or reduce the unhappiness) of passengers waiting at the baggage carousel by increasing the distance between the gate and the baggage claim area, forcing them to walk far rather than wait idly." 

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

The dos and don’ts of helping a drug-addicted person recover

How you talk to people with drug addiction might save their life.

Videos
  • Addiction is a learning disorder; it's not a sign that someone is a bad person.
  • Tough love doesn't help drug-addicted people. Research shows that the best way to get people help is through compassion, empathy and support. Approach them as an equal human being deserving of respect.
  • As a first step to recovery, Maia Szalavitz recommends the family or friends of people with addiction get them a complete psychiatric evaluation by somebody who is not affiliated with any treatment organization. Unfortunately, warns Szalavitz, some people will try to make a profit off of an addicted person without informing them of their full options.
Keep reading Show less

10 science photos that made history and changed minds

These photos of scientific heroes and accomplishments inspire awe and curiosity.

Surprising Science
  • Science has given humanity an incalculable boost over the recent centuries, changing our lives in ways both awe-inspiring and humbling.
  • Fortunately, photography, a scientific feat in and of itself, has recorded some of the most important events, people and discoveries in science, allowing us unprecedented insight and expanding our view of the world.
  • Here are some of the most important scientific photos of history:
Keep reading Show less

In a first for humankind, China successfully sprouts a seed on the Moon

China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.

Image source: CNSA
Surprising Science
  • China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
  • In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
  • The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
Keep reading Show less