Do you remember the old TV programme called 'Why Don't You?' The title song suggested that you “Switch off your TV set and do something less boring instead!” Some recent research totally agrees with this and proposes that TV won’t make people happy. Some positive psychologists suggest that people in rich, Western countries spend too much free time on passive activities, like bingeing on box-sets and browsing social media, rather than on active, psychologically-demanding activities, like cooking, sport or playing music, that allow the opportunity to experience ‘flow’ – that magic interval where your abilities only just meet the demands of the challenge. A new paper in the Journal of Positive Psychology examines this dilemma. Do we realise that pursuing more active, challenging activities will make us happier in the long-run? If so, why then do we opt to spend so much more time lazing around doing things that are pleasant in the moment, but unlikely to bring any lasting fulfilment?
There was a clear pattern: more effortful activities are identified as being more associated with lasting happiness, yet people said they spent much more time on passive, relaxation-based activities, like watching TV. Looking at their other judgments, the key factor that seemed to deter participants from engaging in more active, flow-inducing activities is that they tended to be seen as particularly daunting and less enjoyable, even while being associated with lasting happiness. The more daunting an activity was deemed to be, the less frequently it was undertaken (by contrast, and to the researchers’ surprise, the perceived effort involved in the activity did not seem to be a deterrent).
This seems to be a paradox of happiness: we know which kind of activities will bring us lasting happiness, but because we see them as daunting and less enjoyable in the moment, we choose to spend much more of our time doing passive, more immediately pleasant things with our free time.
So what can you do about it? The researchers’ advice is to plan ahead “to try to ease the physical transition into flow activities” to make them feel less daunting. For example, they suggest getting your gym clothes and bag ready the night before, and choosing a gym that’s close and convenient; or getting your journal and pen, or easel and paintbrushes, ready in advance. They also suggested attending a Clean Well-Being class (joke, obviously!).
The other thing they suggest is using mindfulness, meditation or some other “controlled consciousness” technique to help yourself to disregard the initial “transition costs” of a flow activity, such as the early pain of a run, and to focus instead on its pleasurable aspects and the long-term rewards. So a little bit of effort pays dividends!
Hi, I'm Joanna from Clean Well-Being.
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