Women enjoy sex most and commuting least, according to a study using a new tool that attempts to measure what really makes people happy on a daily basis.
Surprisingly, researchers said they found that activities, such as sex, socializing, eating, exercising, and watching TV have a much bigger impact on women’s happiness on a daily basis than general circumstances, such as income, religion, or marital status.
The study also showed that time pressures at work, lack of sleep, and temperament (including depression) have a major impact on personal happiness.
Researchers say new tools like this one are needed to measure and quantify people’s quality of life and well-being. Current tools rely on broader measures, such as income or educational status that may not accurately reflect personal happiness.
A New Way to Measure Personal Happiness
In the study, which appears in the Dec. 3 issue of Science, researchers tested a new tool, called the Day Reconstruction Method, which is designed to assess how people spend their time and how they felt about those activities on a given day.
More than 900 women answered general demographic questions and then were asked to create a short diary of the previous day by thinking of the day as a film containing a series of scenes and episodes.
After the women constructed their diary, they answered a series of questions about each episode, including what they were doing, with whom, and how they felt.
The average number of daily activities was 14 and each lasted about an hour.
The most enjoyable activities included: sex or intimate relations, socializing, relaxing, praying or meditating, eating, exercising, and watching TV. The least enjoyable activity was commuting, followed by working and doing housework.
Interactions with friends were rated as most enjoyable, notably more enjoyable than interactions with relatives, spouses, or children.
Although children are frequently cited as the greatest source of joy in people’s lives, researchers say taking care of children isn’t always enjoyable.
"When people are asked how much they enjoy spending time with their kids they think of all the nice things -- reading them a story, going to the zoo," says researcher Norbert Schwarz of the University of Michigan, in a news release. "But they don't take the other times into account, the times when they are trying to do something else and find the kids distracting.”
“When we sample all the times that parents spend with their children, the picture is less positive than parents expect,” says Schwarz. “On the other hand, we also find that people enjoy spending time with their relatives much more than they usually assume."
Researchers also found that the quality of women’s sleep had a major impact on their enjoyment of life. Women who slept poorly, on average, enjoyed their day as little as the average person enjoys commuting. But those who slept well enjoyed their day as much as most people enjoy watching TV.
When it comes to personal happiness, researchers say the results show that general life circumstances, such as job security and marital status, had a much smaller impact on feelings than the types of activities that people were engaged in.
"It's not that life circumstances are irrelevant to well-being," says Schwarz, "on the contrary, we found that people experience large variations in feelings during the course of a normal day. This variation highlights the importance of optimizing the allocation of time across situations and activities. If you want to improve your well-being, make sure that you allocate your time wisely."
SOURCES: Kahneman, D. Science, Dec. 3, 2004; vol 306: pp 1776-1780. News release, University of Michigan. News release, National Institute on Aging.