Even though humans are theoretically concerned with maximizing their enjoyment in life, engaging in hedonistic behaviors like, say, eating large amounts of potato chips while binge-watching Netflix, most of us still manage to get off the couch for part of our free time to complete those unpleasant chores that keep households running smoothly. In a new psychological study, an international team of researchers ask, “If we always try to improve our moods, when are we motivated to do the dishes, wait in line at the post office, or even go to work?”
Published in the journal PNAS, the researchers surveyed more than 28,000 people in France, Belgium, Switzerland, and other areas through a smartphone app that used push notifications to get participants to take surveys about their moods and activities at random points during the day, as Ars Technica reports.
They found that people are not as single-minded about pursuing pleasure as we might perhaps think. For the most part, the participants’ activities were more influenced by the calendar than by their emotions—which isn't surprising, since most people don’t have the luxury of skipping their commute when they feel down, and no one controls when they’re stuck waiting for something. But mood does tend to correlate with people doing pleasant tasks, like seeing friends or playing sports. The authors write:
In other words, if you wanted to predict how likely a random stranger whom you meet is to be working, cleaning the dishes, or sleeping a few hours from now, knowing what day or time it is would be more informative than knowing her current mood. If, however, you wanted to predict how likely that person is to exercise, chat with friends, or have a drink in the next few hours, knowing her current mood would give you more information than knowing that it is Saturday or that it is 7:00 PM.
However, happy people didn't just undertake happy tasks. The happier people reported being, the more likely they were to engage in an activity considered unpleasant—one that would temporarily bring down their moods but pay off in some longer-term way. People in good moods, for instance, were more likely to do housework later in the day. On a given Sunday, if someone “was particularly happy in the morning, she would be about 30 percent more likely to clean up her apartment in the afternoon than if she was particularly unhappy that morning,” the researchers elaborate.
This makes some sense. If you had a terrible morning, you’re more likely to treat yourself to a night out with friends as a mood booster than you are to clean your apartment. Whereas if you’re feeling great, you’re more likely to convince yourself that you can stand the horrors of mopping.
[h/t Ars Technica]
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