If your determination for happiness sounds like a to-do list, you might want to re-think that strategy.
New research has found that those who doggedly pursue happiness often feel like they don’t have enough time in the day to get to done and dusted. This results, ironically, in making them feel unhappy.
The study – published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review – featured four different experiments that analysed how how the pursuit of happiness, as well as the state of being happy, influenced people’s perception of time. Some participants were directed to conceive of happiness as a goal, tasked with making a list of things that would make them happy or encouraged to make themselves feel happy while watching a boring movie. Other participants were instructed to think of happiness as something they had already achieved, tasked with listing items in their lives that already made them happy or watch a comedy movie. Afterwards they were all asked how much free time they felt they had.
"Time seems to vanish amid the pursuit of happiness, but only when seen as a goal requiring continued pursuit," explained the researchers. "This finding adds depth to the growing body of work suggesting that the pursuit of happiness can ironically undermine well-being."
However, those who believe they had achieved happiness were left with more time to appreciate it, e.g. by keeping a gratitude journal.
The findings also highlighted how our differing perceptions of happiness can influence how much time we need to attain it.
"Because engaging in experiences and savouring the associated feelings requires more time compared with merely, for instance, buying material goods, feeling a lack of time also leads people to prefer material possessions rather than enjoying leisure experiences," the researchers say.
"Separately, when people feel pressed for time, they are less willing to spend time helping others or volunteering. By encouraging people to worry less about pursuing happiness as a never-ending goal, successful interventions might just end up giving them more time and, in turn, more happiness."