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Stay Busy, Stay Happy

Happiest People Shun Idleness, Keep Busy With Tasks, Study Finds
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 3, 2010 -- People who stay busy with tasks tend to be happier than idle folks, new research indicates.

Researchers at the University of Chicago and Shanghai Jiaotong University enrolled 98 college students to take part in experiments requiring them to either be idle for 15 minutes or take a walk before performing another task.

The students were instructed to fill out multiple confidential surveys about their school and were told they could do nothing else while doing so.

After the first survey, participants were told it would be 15 minutes before they could do another. They were told they’d be given a piece of candy whether they decided to drop it off at a nearby location and then stay idle, or take a walk to a distant location for drop-off before doing another survey.

In one experiment, the candies were identical in both locations -- participants could choose from milk chocolate or dark chocolate. In the second experiment, the candies were different at the two locations -- one location had milk chocolate, the other dark chocolate, but the type of chocolate was randomly chosen.

This choice offered no justification for walking for 15 minutes, in which case taking a hike before completing another survey might seem foolish, the researchers say.

But knowing the treats would be different offered a justification to take a chance -- and a stroll.

Less than half of the students chose to go to the faraway location if they thought the treats would be identical, the researchers say, but more than half chose to take a walk when they knew the treats would be different.

This was true even though the students had no clue about the type of chocolate they’d get by opting to take a walk.

After 15 minutes, the students were given a questionnaire that asked, “How good did you feel in the last 15 minutes,” and responses were made on a scale from 1, or “not good at all,” to 5, indicating they felt “very good.”

The result: Busy participants who walked to the faraway spot reported greater happiness than those who chose to wait idly, the researchers say.

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