This Much Spare Time Makes You Happiest

It is possible to have too much free time for your mental health.

It is possible to have too much free time for your mental health.

When people have about two hours spare time each day they are happiest, a fascinating study finds.

People with between two and five hours spare time a day are equally happy as those with two hours spare.

This suggests that the ‘time poor’ should try and carve out around two hours of free time each day to increase their happiness.

People who have seven hours spare time each day, though, are markedly less happy and satisfied with their lives than those with two hours spare.

This may partly be because people with too much time feel unproductive due to wasting it.

The solution to too much free time is finding and pursuing a purpose.

When people feel purposeful, it makes them happier.

Too busy to enjoy yourself

The findings contradict what many people might imagine: that more spare time is always linked to happiness.

While having two hours is much better than one hour or none, more than this is not linked to higher levels of happiness.

Dr Marissa Sharif, the study’s first author, said:

“People often complain about being too busy and express wanting more time.

But is more time actually linked to greater happiness?

We found that having a dearth of discretionary hours in one’s day results in greater stress and lower subjective well-being.

However, while too little time is bad, having more time is not always better.”

The results come firstly from a set of surveys in which the associations between free time and happiness among thousands of Americans were tested.

These clearly showed that some free time was linked to more happiness, but only up to a point.

Secondly, in a set of experiments people were asked to imagine they had a low (15 minutes), moderate (3.5 hours) or high (7 hours) amount of free time each day.

The results showed that people felt happiest and more productive with a moderate amount of free time each day — around 3.5 hours, or so.

Low amounts of free time were linked to feeling stressed and high amounts to engaging in unproductive activities like watching television and using the computer.

Dr Sharif said:

“Though our investigation centered on the relationship between amount of discretionary time and subjective well-being, our additional exploration into how individuals spend their discretionary time proved revealing.

Our findings suggest that ending up with entire days free to fill at one’s discretion may leave one similarly unhappy.

People should instead strive for having a moderate amount of free time to spend how they want.

In cases when people do find themselves with excessive amounts of discretionary time, such as retirement or having left a job, our results suggest these individuals would benefit from spending their newfound time with purpose.”

The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Sharif et al., 2021).

The Best Way To Start A New Phase Of Your Life

How to move home, change job or start a new relationship with no regrets.

How to move home, change job or start a new relationship with no regrets.

Ending phases of life with a sense of closure makes people feel happier, research finds.

People who tie up all the loose ends before moving house, changing job or starting a new relationship experience fewer regrets.

When people feel they have ‘said goodbye’ properly to their old life, they experience easier transitions to their new life.

Things like going-away parties help people experience a sense of closure.

Without doing everything that could have been done, people are more likely to have regrets.

Professor Gabriele Oettingen, the study’s first author, said:

“Starting a new life phase in a positive and constructive way is often challenging, so we examined methods that could help people find a good start to a new job, a new relationship, or a new home.

We observed that how people end their previous life periods makes a difference.

In fact, the more people feel that they have done everything they could have done, that they have completed something to the fullest, and that all loose ends are tied up, the happier they are later on, the less they are plagued by regrets, and the more constructively they enter the next life phase.”

The research included over 1,200 people across seven different studies.

Participants were asked about transitions like finishing school or travelling for a period.

In one study, people imagined moving away from their hometown or leaving a best friend’s wedding.

The results showed that ending these periods in a well-rounded way — for example, by saying goodbye to friends — was linked to fewer regrets and a more positive transition.

Finishing in a well-rounded way was even linked to enhanced attention and cognitive flexibility by one study.

Professor Oettingen said:

“Ending the various phases in our lives in a well-rounded way seems to be an important building block for sustaining emotional, interpersonal, and professional happiness.”

The study was published in the journal Motivation Science (Schwörer et al., 2019).

Knowing These Words Is A Sign Of Good Mental Health

The words were also linked to better physical health.

The words were also linked to better physical health.

People who know more positive words relating to the emotions are likely to have better mental health, research finds.

People who naturally use words like glad, joyful, gleeful, perky and jolly are also likely to be in better physical health.

The use of a wider variety of positive emotion words was also reflected in personality: cheerful words were linked to being more outgoing, agreeable and conscientious.

Conversely, those who know more words for negative emotions report higher levels of neuroticism and depression — they are also likely to be in worse physical health.

Dr Vera Vine, the study’s first author, said:

“Our language seems to indicate our expertise with states of emotion we are more comfortable with.

It looks like there’s a congruency between how many different ways we can name a feeling and how often and likely we are to experience that feeling.”

The conclusions come from stream-of-consciousness essays written by 1,567 students and an analysis of over 35,000 public blogs.

The results showed that the language people use feeds back into their mental state.

While writing the essays, people who used more words for sadness grew sadder and people who talked about fear became more fearful.

People using many different words for positive emotions, though, tended to show more linguistic markers of mental well-being.

They talked about achievements, leisure activities and being part of a group.

Dr Vine said:

“There’s a lot of excitement right now about expanding people’s emotional vocabularies and teaching how to precisely articulate negative feelings.

While we often hear the phrase, ‘name it to tame it’ when referring to negative emotions, I hope this paper can inspire clinical researchers who are developing emotion-labeling interventions for clinical practice, to study the potential pitfalls of encouraging over-labeling of negative emotions, and the potential utility of teaching positive words.”

The study helps underlines how important language is to our lived experience.

It is not just a way of communicating with others, it is also how we tell ourselves how we are feeling.

Professor James W. Pennebaker, study co-author, said:

“It is likely that people who have had more upsetting life experiences have developed richer negative emotion vocabularies to describe the worlds around them.

In everyday life, these same people can more readily label nuanced feelings as negative which may ultimately affect their moods.”

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications (Vine et al., 2020).

The Simplest Way To Feel Happier Right Now

How we think with both our brains and our bodies.

How we think with both our brains and our bodies.

One of the simplest ways of feeling happier is to force a smile.

Similarly, scowling makes us feel more miserable.

Both are examples of how we think with both our brains and our bodies.

While we tend to think of smiles and scowls being the end product of our internal emotional processes, they can also be the start.

No one is claiming that forcing a smile will cure depression, but it is worth considering the implications of even a small effect such as this one.

Imagine all the little facial expression a person makes over a day, and then over a lifetime.

Think of how the posture and dynamics of the rest of the body feeds back to the mind’s emotional state (for example, a happy style of walking).

It is not hard to imagine that routinely smiling as opposed to scowling, along with other aspects of positive body language, would make a difference to mental health in the long-term.

Nevertheless, the idea that smiling makes people happy has been controversial, explained Mr Nicholas Coles, the study’s first author:

“Conventional wisdom tells us that we can feel a little happier if we simply smile.

Or that we can get ourselves in a more serious mood if we scowl.

But psychologists have actually disagreed about this idea for over 100 years.”

For the study, researchers looked at 138 separate studies including over 11,000 people.

Mr Coles said:

“Some studies have not found evidence that facial expressions can influence emotional feelings.

But we can’t focus on the results of any one study.

Psychologists have been testing this idea since the early 1970s, so we wanted to look at all the evidence.”

The meta-analysis found that facial expressions do indeed have a small effect on how people feel.

Mr Coles said:

“We don’t think that people can smile their way to happiness.

But these findings are exciting because they provide a clue about how the mind and the body interact to shape our conscious experience of emotion.

We still have a lot to learn about these facial feedback effects, but this meta-analysis put us a little closer to understanding how emotions work.”

The study was published in the journal Psychological Bulletin (Coles et al., 2019).

The Experiences That Make People Happiest

The boost to happiness can be seen in increased brain activity in regions critical to novelty and reward.

The boost to happiness can be seen in increased brain activity in regions critical to novelty and reward.

New and diverse experiences make people the happiest, research shows.

People living in New York and Miami, who were tracked over months, felt more positive emotions when they spent more time in locations that were novel to them.

The boost to happiness can be seen in increased brain activity in regions critical to novelty and reward.

Even relatively small changes — like walking around the block or taking a different route to the store — may have beneficial effects.

Dr Catherine Hartley, study co-author, said:

“Our results suggest that people feel happier when they have more variety in their daily routines—when they go to novel places and have a wider array of experiences.

The opposite is also likely true: positive feelings may drive people to seek out these rewarding experiences more frequently.”

For the study, people in New York and Miami had their emotions and movements tracked over 3-4 months.

The results showed that when people were in new and different places on the same day, they were more likely to report feeling happy, strong, relaxed or excited.

Dr Aaron Heller, the study’s first author, said:

“Collectively, these findings show the beneficial consequences of environmental enrichment across species, demonstrating a connection between real-world exposure to fresh and varied experiences and increases in positive emotions.”

Brain scans on a subset of these people showed a strong link between novelty and a rewarding feeling.

Some people’s brains are particularly sensitive to diverse experiences and it gives them a greater boost.

In these people there are stronger links between parts of the brain important for feeling good and for processing reward and novelty.

Dr Hartley said:

“These results suggest a reciprocal link between the novel and diverse experiences we have during our daily exploration of our physical environments and our subjective sense of well-being.”

The study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience (Heller et al., 2020).

This Is How Long Sadness Lasts After A Major Life Event

The saddest events in life are health problems, bereavement and large financial losses.

The saddest events in life are health problems, bereavement and large financial losses.

It takes around four years for people to recover their well-being after the saddest events in life, such as health problems, bereavement and large financial losses, research finds.

In contrast, the happiest events in life — marriage, childbirth and a major financial gain — typically only provide a boost to happiness for two years.

Many major life events have relatively little effect on happiness, including moving house and getting a new job, the study also revealed.

Dr Nathan Kettlewell, the study’s first author, said:

“Marriage, childbirth and a major financial gain produced the greatest elevation to wellbeing, however they did not lead to long-lasting happiness – the positive effect generally wore off after two years.

However, there was also an anticipatory effect for marriage and childbirth, with wellbeing increasing prior to these events.”

The study tracked the major life events of 14,000 people in Australia over 12 years.

The four most common life events are getting a new job, moving house, pregnancy and injury or illness in a close family member.

The results showed that events that had the greatest negative impact on well-being were large financial losses, health problems and the death of a partner.

Those that had the greatest positive impact were a large financial gain, getting married and having a baby.

In contrast, getting fired, being promoted and moving house had relatively little effect on well-being.

Dr Kettlewell said:

“The life events that saw the deepest plunge in wellbeing were the death of a partner or child, separation, a large financial loss or a health shock.

But even for these negative experiences, on average people recovered to their pre-shock level of wellbeing by around four years.”

The researchers looked at two different types of happiness: feeling good and life satisfaction.

Life satisfaction is how people evaluate their lives overall while happiness refers to emotion felt in the moment.

Life events like marriage and retirement made people more satisfied with their lives, but did not make much difference to felt happiness.

People having children felt quite satisfied in the first year but were significantly less happy.

Dr Kettlewell said:

“While chasing after happiness may be misplaced, the results suggest that the best chances for enhancing wellbeing may lie in protecting against negative shocks, for example by establishing strong relationships, investing in good health and managing financial risks.

And we can take consolation from the fact that, although it takes time, wellbeing can recover from even the worst circumstances.”

The study was published in the journal SSM – Population Health (Kettlewell et al., 2020).

The Number of Children That Makes Parents Happiest

For happiness: when you should have children and how many.

For happiness: when you should have children and how many.

First and second children provide parents a boost in happiness up to a year before they are born but the third does not, research finds.

The increase in happiness lasts around one year from birth, after which some parents’ happiness returns to its usual pre-baby levels.

The research, published in the journal Demography, found that it’s the first child that provides the greatest boost in happiness, while the increase from the second is about half the size (Myrskylä & Margolis, 2014).

The happiness boost from the first child was equivalent in size, on average, to getting divorced or losing your job — except obviously it made people happy rather than sad.

Men and women, on average, saw similar increases in happiness, although women gained more just before the birth and their happiness dropped more quickly in the year after birth.

Professor Mikko Myrskylä, the study’s co-author, explained:

“Our results show a temporary and transitory gain in parents’ happiness around the birth of first and second children.

The fact that parental happiness increases before these children are born suggests that we are capturing broader issues relating to childbearing such as couples forming partnerships and making plans for the future.

The arrival of a third child is not associated with an increase in the parents’ happiness, but this is not to suggest they are any less loved than their older siblings.

Instead, this may reflect that the experience of parenthood is less novel and exciting by the time the third child is born or that a larger family puts extra pressure on the parents’ resources.

Also, the likelihood of a pregnancy being unplanned may increase with the number of children a woman already has — and this brings its own stresses.

Parents who are highly educated or have their first children between the ages of 35 and 49 show the strongest gains in happiness around the birth of their children.

For these parents, happiness gained when they became parents was sustained over the long-term.

Dr. Rachel Margolis, who co-authored the study, said:

“The fact that among older and better-educated parents, well-being increases with childbearing, but the young and less-educated parents have flat or even downward happiness trajectories, may explain why postponing fertility has become so common.”

The researchers found that teenagers who had children showed no happiness boost, indeed they tended to become less happy over time.

The data comes from the analysis of household surveys in Britain and Germany, which included over 7,000 people.