The pursuit of happiness: To some of us, it is life’s greatest purpose, while to others, it is merely a cliché sentiment best reserved for motivational posters and cheesy internet memes.
In either case, happiness is certainly something that we all strive for in this world, and amazingly all seem to find in different places.
As part of an ongoing analysis to better understand human behaviour, a team of researchers tracked the realtime moods and activities of over 28,000 European people for an average of 27 days each. The goal? To identify whether or not we as humans are in fact guided by what psychologists call the hedonic principle, which is the making of choices based on either minimizing its negative or maximizing its positive impact on us.
The massive study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted through a multi-platform smartphone application that would ask users to regularly rate their mood (on a scale from 1 to 10) as well as log what they were doing at the time.
The study found that the participants followed what researchers called a hedonic flexibility principle, which means we tend to seek out and participate in mood-increasing activities when we are feeling down, but more surprisingly, that we tend to engage in mood-decreasing (but useful) activities when feeling good.
So what do we tend to do when feeling the happiest? Purposeful, but not uplifting, tasks such as household chores. Pretty exciting stuff, huh?
Dr. Jordi Quoidbach, one of the study’s lead authors, explained their findings to Business Insider: “Our positive emotion, perhaps, can be seen as a resource. . . . When we don’t have enough, we need to replenish it, but as soon as we have enough, we can potentially use that to get things done.”
Rather than consistently seeking pleasure, we seem to have an auto-productivity response that sees a good mood as a great opportunity to accomplish something that needs to be done.
Think of your own behavioural patterns — does this accurately reflect how you tend to act? If you can’t recall, take note of your behaviour moving forward. Whenever you find yourself doing the laundry or cleaning your bathroom, take a second to consider how your mood was just before deciding to do it.
Pleasure Versus Pain
I was first formally introduced to the hedonic principle through the teachings of Tony Robbins, specifically in the book Awaken the Giant Within : How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny!
It guides you to reflect on what brings you pleasure and what brings you pain for two definitive purposes. The first is to become more aware of what brings you joy, to motivate you to make more time for it in your daily life. The second is to identify whether you are driven more by the pursuit of what makes you happy or the avoidance of what doesn’t.
It’s amazing how many of us operate primarily out of fear, focusing on avoiding hardship because of doubt or challenging past experiences. This may not seem that detrimental, but it truly is when you think of how many dreams and goals we opt not to pursue simply because we’re uncertain we can attain them.
Take the time to identify what makes you happiest in life, and make a conscious effort to dedicate more time to it. The impact may seem insignificant at first, but the long term implications could be huge both in terms of your overall happiness and, as the study suggests, productivity.
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