The Secret of Truly Happy People Lies in How They Spend Their Time

Fagjun | Published 2017-03-03 05:48

Engaging in structured, challenging activities is what makes people happy in the long-term.

Many activities can make people happy. The difference lies in whether or not these activities can produce long-term happiness. Researchers have found what causes people to be happier in the long run. Their findings, though they make sense, are somewhat unexpected.

L. Parker Schiffer and Tomi-Ann Roberts, the study's authors, searched for the source of people's happiness. They conducted a survey with a sample size of 300 respondents. The respondents had to answer questions on what they thought of specific activities. Questions focused mainly on how daunting or enjoyable these activities were to the respondents.

Passive vs Flow Activities

Watching TV and browsing Facebook may be enjoyable now, but they won't cause long-term happiness.

Though the selection of activities varied, they fit into two categories. One category contained passive activities that required little effort from a person. Things like browsing social media, listening to music, and watching television are passive activities.

Structured activities like sports, meanwhile, are the key to long-term happiness.

The other category contained what the psychologists call “flow activities”. These activities are one that require more time, focus, energy, and effort. Things like playing sports, going to the gym, creative endeavors, and cooking are some examples of flow activities. If an activity has a set of rules or guidelines and is challenging, then it is considered to be flow-inducing.

The answers of the respondents reveal something quite surprising. People recognize that flow activities can make them happy in the long run. However, it's interesting to note that people still found passive activities to be more enjoyable. They thus spend more time on passive activities rather than the ones they know will make them happy.

The Paradox of Happiness”

One explanation for this paradox lies in nature of these activities. Passive activities, to put it simply, are easier to do. They require very little effort, practice, and investment of time and energy. They are enjoyable in the moment, and they are as easy to pick back up as they are to stop.

Flow-inducing activities, however, are a different story. Most times, flow activities require people to build up skill. It may take time for them to become more enjoyable or easier. If you stop doing these activities regularly, it may be difficult to get into them again. They are also not as enjoyable in the moment as passive activities.

Herein lies what Schiffer and Roberts call “the paradox of happiness”. People are aware that flow activities produce long-term happiness. However, they would rather do what feels good in the moment, rather than do what can make them happy in the long run.

How to Get into the Flow

The researchers thus propose techniques on getting started on a flow activity. One important thing to do is to make starting the activity easier so you won't have excuses to put it off. Something simple like preparing cooking materials the day before you cook can help you get started. You can also use meditation techniques to get into the right frame of mind. Getting the ball rolling should not be the biggest obstacle if you want to be happy for a longer period of time.

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