The old saying ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ may well be true. A recent study of ~200 people in three different countries showed that hobbies make us happier than accomplishments.
A paper titled ‘Value Fulfilment and Well-being: Clarifying Directions Over Time’ describes a 9-day research study in which participants from India, Turkey, and the UK tracked how pursuing their values impacted them. Unexpectedly, there were no statistically significant differences across nationalities.
Universally, people who prioritized achievements were less happy the next day. On the other hand, those who pursued ‘self-direction’ were significantly happier. In particular:
- Engaging in hobbies and relaxation caused a 10% reduction in stress and anxiety, and an 8% rise in well-being.
- Prioritizing freedom led to a 13% increase in sleep quality, well-being, and life satisfaction.
Interestingly, pursuing conformity had no impact on reported happiness. Just trying to fit in apparently doesn’t make you more or less happy.
One of the researchers concluded: “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.” In addition, “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.”
The authors acknowledge some limitations to their research. The participants were relatively young – and previous studies have shown the correlation between ‘values-based action and mental health’ is stronger for older people. They also worry about the relatively small number of days tracked and the 24 hours between measurements. Other intervening events could have impacted reported satisfaction.
These findings reinforce the Parable of the Contented Fisherman, and highlight the importance of balancing financial gains with personal satisfaction. Enjoying your hobbies will make you happier than finishing a project at work.