Consider this scenario: You just landed at an airport and now you have to walk to the baggage claim to pick up your luggage. It takes you 12 minutes to walk there. When you arrive your luggage is coming onto the carousel. How impatient do you feel?
Contrast that with this scenario: You just landed at an airport, and the walk to the luggage carousel takes 2 minutes. But then you stand around waiting 10 minutes for your luggage to appear. How impatient do you feel now? In both cases you it took you 12 minutes to pick up your luggage, but chances are you are much more impatient, and much more unhappy in the second scenario where you have to stand around and wait.
The paradox — Research by Christopher Hsee and colleagues shows that you are happier when you are busy. This is somewhat of a paradox. In another post I write about the research that shows that people are actually lazy. Unless people have a reason for being active, they choose to do nothing, thereby conserving energy. But doing nothing makes people impatient and unhappy.
We love a challenge — Hsee asked participants to study a bracelet. Then he gave them the option of either spending fifteen minutes waiting with nothing to do (they thought they were waiting for the next part of the experiment), or spending the same time taking the bracelet apart and re-building it while waiting. Some of the participants were given the option of rebuilding it into its original configuration, and others were given the option to re-assemble the bracelet into a different design.
Happier when busy — Participants who had the option of re-building the bracelet as it was before, preferred to just sit idly. But the participants who were told they could re-assemble the bracelet into a new design, preferred to work on the bracelet rather than sit idle. Those who spent the fifteen minutes busy with the bracelet, reported feeling happier than those who sat idle.
What do you think? Why are people unhappy when they are lazy? Why do they tend to want to be lazy?
And if you like to read the research:
Hsee, C. K., Yang, X., & Wang, L. (2010). Idleness aversion and the need for justified busyness. Psychological Science. 21(7), 926–930.