Research Reveals Types of Activities Promoting Happiness
For many people, happiness remains one of life´s elusive pursuits. Yet according to research, improving your mood is easier than you think. Setting aside all of the obvious factors that impact well-being: including faith, family, finances, and health, apparently activity significantly affects happiness, both in the short-term and long-terms.
The trick is choosing the right activity.
Activity Affects Affect
Consider what an ideal day would look like for you if you did not have to go to work, or had a break from family — or other responsibilities. What would you do with your free time? Would you read a book, take a hike, or take a nap?
The answer matters more than you think.
If you are looking for an emotional boost, you might think sitting on the couch watching a movie will brighten your mood. According to research, however, you might feel better if you go outside and mow the lawn. Over the long term, activities that require more effort and intensity are more likely to bring contentment.
Interestingly, people appear to know this.
Yet in the moment, when faced with the choice of how to spend free time, most people take the path of least resistance, opting to check Facebook or watch television rather than head to the gym, cook a meal, or start a project.
Rethinking activity choice can improve positive affect and greatly improve your mood.
Getting Off of the Couch and Into the Flow
L. Parker Schiffer and Tomi-Ann Roberts, in "The Paradox of Happiness," in 2018, examined a wide range of activities that people perform in the pursuit of happiness. They examined two categories of activities: "flow" activities, which are challenging, have clear rules, and require high-energy investment, and passive activities, which, as the name implies, are low energy, and much easier to perform.
The authors adopted a description of flow from prior research: "a non-conscious all encompassing mental state induced when skill and challenge meet during our participation in activities that require an investment of psychic or physical energy."
They note that flow activities are not necessarily enjoyable in the moment, but are often enjoyable retrospectively.
The authors note that flow activities promote long-term happiness more than passive activities that require low investment — and that people appear to know this.
Nonetheless, they found that despite this knowledge, participants were more likely to engage in passive leisure activities.
Because they rated passive activities as more enjoyable, easier to get started, and less intimidating than flow activities.
Activity Choice: Active or Passive?
How were the activities tested?
The experiment required participants to rate, evaluate, and answer questions about 36 activities, each of which required high psychic and physical involvement, or passivity.
High psychic/physical activities included cooking, artwork, exercising, and passive activities included surfing the Internet, listening to music, or watching television.
In interpreting the results, Schiffer and Roberts made some interesting observations about the way people perceive the level of enjoyment activities will bring. They discuss "affective forecasting" — the way people predict the emotional affect of future events.
They found participants engaged in inaccurate affective forecasting by rating passive activities as more enjoyable as those that required effort.
They found that even though people appreciated the long-term consequences of passive versus active pursuits, they opted for the immediate pleasure of passive leisure even though they knew it would not facilitate long-term happiness.
In explaining their results, they speculate that perhaps people rationalize their choice of passivity through engaging in "procrastinated happiness" — believing they can be happy in the future. They explain that people indulge in immediate passive leisure "under the false assumption that a single high-energy activity in the future will compensate for presently engaging in mindless hedonism."
The Birth of Routine: Shades of January 1
Why are flow activities so difficult to initiate and maintain?
For the same reasons that New Years Resolutions are so hard to keep. Every Jan. 1, we resolve to engage in flow activities (going to the gym, joining a cycling club, learning to cook at home to eat healthier). But one thing flow activities have in common is the difficulty of initiation.
Schiffer and Roberts´ research recognized that people do not engage in high-energy activities because it is hard to get started. They found that people believed passive activities would be more fun in the short term because they required less activation energy than flow activities.
Routines, however, need to begin somewhere.
Your pursuit of happiness can begin today. Even if you are already blessed with a great family, a steady income, and good health, life can be even better. Engaging in flow activities will supplement an already satisfying lifestyle, especially if you participate with friends and family. Sharing flow activities with loved ones can increase motivation, elevate mood, and boost commitment through accountability to keeping your routine.
So if you want to become happier, the next time you find yourself in a funk, try reaching for your roller blades instead of the remote.
This article was originally posted in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 3,00 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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