People are more likely to engage in depressing tasks, like household chores, when they feel good, new research finds.
But when they feel bad, they are more likely to try and do something to raise their mood, such as exercise.
Dr Maxime Taquet, the study’s first author, said:
“Deciding what to do with one’s time is one of the most fundamental choices humans face every day — a choice that has crucial consequences both for individuals and society at large.
Our findings demonstrate that people’s everyday decisions regarding which activities to undertake are directly linked to how they feel and follow a remarkably consistent pattern.
People seek mood enhancing activities when they feel bad and engage in unpleasant activities that might promise longer-term payoff when they feel good.”
Use happiness to get the chores done
The researchers used a smartphone app to track people’s happiness and their activities during everyday life.
The study found that the activities people choose are driven by how they feel.
When happy, people were more likely to engage in activities likely to make them feel worse, such as commuting, household chores and working.
When they felt bad, though, they were more likely to socialise, exercise or go out into nature to improve their mood.
Dr Taquet said:
“The decisions we make every day about how to invest our time have important personal and societal consequences.
Most theories of motivation propose that our daily choices of activities aim to maximize our positive state of mind, but have so far failed to explain when people decide to engage in unpleasant yet necessary activities.
Using large-scale data, we showed how our emotions shape our behavior and explain the trade-offs us humans make in our daily lives to secure our long-term happiness.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Taquet et al., 2016).