‘Work hard, play harder’ might really be the mantra for happiness and well-being

Research shows that hedonism and autonomy could be the essential ingredients for well-being.

ESSEX, England — The key to happiness may lie in valuing free time and pleasure over achievement, according to a new study. Conducted by a team of British researchers, the study suggests that those who focus on achieving goals at the expense of personal enjoyment are less happy the next day. On the flip side, people who prioritize their own autonomy experience a significant boost in their overall well-being.

Ever felt a sense of satisfaction after a day of personal growth or learning something new? The research explains why: self-direction not only boosts your positive feelings but also gears you up for future success. You’re more likely to continue acting according to values like achievement and stimulation when you’re already feeling good.

But if you’re stressed or anxious, don’t discount the importance of a little hedonistic relaxation. Taking time for leisure can have a real impact on reducing negative emotions, setting the stage for better days ahead.

‘All work and no play’ could be making Jack a dull boy after all

The study, published in the Journal of Personality, was conducted among more than 180 participants in India, Turkey, and the UK. The research showed that individuals who aimed for freedom reported a 13% increase in well-being, better sleep quality, and higher life satisfaction. Moreover, those who spent time relaxing and pursuing hobbies enjoyed an average well-being boost of 8% and a 10% reduction in stress and anxiety levels.

“We all know the old saying ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ and this study shows it might actually be true,” says Dr. Paul Hanel, from the University of Essex, in a statement. “There is no benefit to well-being in prioritizing achievement over fun and autonomy. This research shows that there are real benefits to having a balanced life and taking time to focus on enjoying ourselves and following individual goals.”

Stressed man at work, suffering from headache at office
Workaholics could be doing themselves wrong by ignoring life’s daily pleasures.(© Prostock-studio – stock.adobe.com)

Study authors asked participants to keep diaries for nine days, recording the impact of various values on their happiness. Interestingly, all nationalities reported similar results: the values of “hedonism” and “self-direction” led to increased happiness. Conversely, “achievement” and “conformity” had no impact on happiness.

However, the study did hint at the potential for achievement to positively impact happiness when linked to job satisfaction or the amount of days worked. For those interested in the nitty-gritty: the researchers used advanced statistical models to ensure the robustness of their findings. They even adjusted for variables like whether participants completed surveys on consecutive days and accounted for the fact that not all participants provided data every day. Despite this, the study’s conclusions remained consistent, indicating their reliability.

Professor Greg Maio of the University of Bath noted, “This multinational project was an exciting foray into questions about how values affect well-being in day-to-day life. Against this backdrop, where achievement-oriented values have ring-fenced a great portion of our time, we found that it helps to value freedom and other values just enough to bring in balance and recovery.”

Keys to success

Experts hope this research will influence future mental health provision and therapeutic approaches. “Our research further shows that it might be more important to focus on increasing happiness rather than reducing anxiety and stress, which is of course also important, just not as much,” says Hanel.

The implications of this research are not only meaningful for individuals looking to enhance their well-being but also for corporations and educational institutions. Leaders may now consider the importance of work-life balance, freedom, and personal enjoyment in the quest for happiness and success.

Mental health professionals could also use the findings to tailor their strategies. For example, counselors could help patients identify and act according to their key values to improve their mental state. Additionally, leisure activities that induce relaxation could be integrated into therapy sessions to reduce stress and anxiety.

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