We discussed the importance of variety for happiness in a post (link) and here are some thoughts on that topic of happiness and productivity, all based on this scientific publication.
The researches who looked at variety and happiness came to an interesting conclusion: more variety makes us happier over longer periods of time (days, weeks) but less happy over short periods of time (1 hour or less). The reason is that too much variety in too short a period of time decreases people’s productivity, which makes them less happy.
We all know the feeling: trying too do to much too quickly just guarantees that things don’t get done properly, one gets stressed and few people are happy when they are stressed. This is the point were variety turns into multitasking – and we all know how stressful that can be.
Happiness And Productivity
The key word here is “productive”. People felt less happy when they felt unproductive. But what if people did not set out to be productive in the first place?
They tested that, too, and found out something interesting: variety increased happiness even in the short-term if productivity wasn’t on people’s mind.
Being Happily Unproductive
Here is an example of what that means: imagine you go to the famer’s market on the weekend and you go there with a long shopping list of things to buy from different vendors. The street musician, the lady selling handmade jewellery, the stand with the people who want to introduce you to their church or inform you about a candidate running for city council reduce your productivity. You have stuff to buy, things to do, goals to achieve and all that variety takes away your focus. It will take you longer to get your chores done which reduces your productivity and makes you less happy.
Now assume you go to the farmer’s market just to browse, maybe you’ll buy some fruit, maybe not. You go because you enjoy the atmosphere with no specific goal in mind. You stop and enjoy the musician for a while, look at the lady’s jewellery, grab the prospectus about the church and maybe exchange a few words with the people handing it out. You engage in a discussion about the candidate’s plans, and then you buy some apples. Now variety is good and makes you happy because the burden of productivity was lifted and your mind is stimulated by all the experiences.
What Does That Mean For Me?
We all need to be productive most of the time, at work, at home and often even in our hobbies and leisure time as well. One way of increasing happiness in your daily lives is to once in a while lift that burden and allowing yourself to be unproductive, allowing for a time during which nothing needs to be achieved.
Now comes the important part: don’t spend that deliberately unproductive time sitting on the couch: go out and add a little variety to your life, do something new, interesting and stimulating and you can achieve a bit of precious happiness even in a short period of time.