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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 18-May-13


Sunday 18-May-13

Happiness, Busy-ness and Laziness

Have you ever been sat in a queue somewhere and felt irritated as some person or process steals minutes from your productive life? Maybe online, waiting for a service agent, or at the airport, waiting for your luggage. Our lives are filled with little queues (and sometimes not so little ones), which frustrate us as they drain our happiness. Yet we seldom do anything about it. We could, for example read a book, but instead we huff and puff as we stand in line, looking at the time just to get even more annoyed. As someone once said, we could all be happier, but most people are not unhappy enough to do anything about it. Perhaps also we like a good moan as we play the victim, unable to do anything about our situation.

Researcher Christopher Hsee and his colleagues gave subjects a choice between a 'busy' option, of delivering a package to a location that was a 15 minute round trip, or a 'lazy' option of delivering it just outside the room and then standing there for 15 minutes. He also varied the reward for this task, offering the same or a different chocolate bar. When the same confection was offered, 68% chose the lazy option, even though those who took the walk reported greater happiness. However if a different (but very similar) chocolate bar was offered for each delivery option, then 59% now chose to walk for 15 minutes. This was explained by the researchers that when they went for a walk, they were naturally happier as their time was filled productively and greater meaning was created for them. Yet we also have a tendency to laziness and having the same reward left many with the easiest option.

The bottom line is:

  • When given equal action choices, many will choose the path of least effort.
  • It only takes a small reward to nudge people into taking wiser, more meaningful options.
  • You should hence be able to persuade people to do things rather than be lazy by offering them a a small reward such as interest, meaning and benefit.

Hsee C.K., Yang A.X. and Wang L (2010). Idleness aversion and the need for justifiable busyness. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 21, 7, 926-30

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