Saturday, July 24, 2010

Of Busyness and Chocolate

"We show in two experiments that without a justification, people choose to be idle; that even a specious justification can motivate people to be busy; and that people who are busy are happier than people who are idle.”(1)

The past few days have been stressful, so last evening I set to work on my kitchen, wiped down cabinets, sudsed up countertops, and then got down on my knees to hand scrub the floor. This was a Friday night, mind you, but I was content if more than a little sweaty, completely calmed by my whirlwind of activity. As a result, I've been thinking about busyness, and, my conclusion-- based on encounters with people both happy and un--is that humans enjoy being busy. Researchers from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business concur that busyness is a source of happiness.

As you know from this blog, scientists will study just about anything, and their most willing and available subjects are college students. Researchers at the University of Chicago theorized that "People dread idleness, yet they need a reason to be busy." So they grabbed a group of undergrads, hooked them up with a bogus survey, and here's what they found about idleness, chocolate, motivation, and happiness.

The students were asked to complete the survey then offered various strategies for turning it in. All involved the choice between a 15 minute sit-around-and-wait versus a 15 minute walk to another location. Without a chocolate inducement, the majority of subjects chose to wait. If offered a choice of milk chocolate on site vs. walking for dark, however, significantly more subjects opted to ambulate. The final test group was forced to walk or wait as a condition of the experiment. In every case, those who walked judged themselves happier than their lazy-bone colleagues. The researchers concluded, as stated above, that while people might choose to be idle, they’re willing to get moving for rewards as ‘specious’ as chocolate, and they’re always glad to be busy.

I talked this all over with a psychologist friend, and we agreed that this research is adrift in specious reasoning. Did the walkers, in fact, become happy due to walking or did they walk because they were happy? Or did they become happy while walking because it was such a nice break from their busy schedules to slow down and walk through the beautiful campus (if indeed the U. of Chicago campus is beautiful). Or is this the healthy person bias, meaning are people who choose to walk for chocolate on average people who are optimistic about the future and happily seeking healthy choices?

Other research confirms another obvious fact, namely that active people derive satisfaction not necessarily from busyness so much as from being valued and needed as a result of that which they accomplish in their work. And too busy, frantically busy, is a known detriment to health. Stay tuned for more busy research in upcoming posts.
(1) Hsee, CK, et al. "Idleness aversion and the need for justifiable busyness." Psychol Sci. 2010 Jul;21(7):926-30.

1 comment:

kenju said...

" people derive satisfaction not necessarily from busyness so much as from being valued and needed as a result of that which they accomplish in their work."

I certainly find that to be true for me! Not that I'm looking for kudos, but it's nice to be valued and appreciated.