Doing meaningful activities is the key to boosting happiness while social distancing and lockdown rules are in effect, a new study finds.
In contrast, keeping busy just for the sake of it does not boost happiness.
Indeed, mindless busywork tends to leave people feeling unsatisfied and unsettled.
It is better to continue with activities that were enjoyable before the pandemic — only in a a different form.
For example, dinner parties can be done virtually as can group exercise classes.
Dr Lauren Saling, study co-author, said:
“Busyness might be distracting but it won’t necessarily be fulfilling.
Rather, think about what activities you miss most and try and find a way of doing them.”
Researchers asked almost 100 people about their level of well-being before and during lockdown.
The results revealed that when people took up novelty lockdown activities, like baking and painting, just to keep busy, this was linked to more extreme emotions.
On the other hand, meaningful activities made people feel calmer.
Dr Saling said:
“Extreme emotions are not necessarily a good thing.
Emotions are a mechanism to make you change your behaviour.
But when you’re doing what you love, it makes sense that you feel more balanced — simply keeping busy isn’t satisfying.”
Simply being busy is not enough to stave off sadness.
Dr Saling said:
“The study showed positive and negative affect worked together, not as opposites.
Respondents who simply stayed busy during lockdown reported an increase in both positive and negative emotions.
This heightened emotionality will tend to shift you away from activity in general and towards meaningful activity.”
The study also revealed that people under 40 experienced the largest changes to their positive emotions after lockdown.
This might be because younger people have more difficulty finding suitable substitute activities.
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, 2013) 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 PLOS ONE (Cohen et al., 2020).