Which Activities Make Us the Happiest?

The app Mappiness pings people twice a day and asks them what they have just been doing, who they are with, and where they are. It can also tell what the temperature and weather are. It then asks people three questions:

  1. How happy are you?
  2. How relaxed are you?
  3. How awake do you feel?

People can answer anywhere on a scale from “not at all” at one end to “extremely” at the other end.

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Can the weather impact people’s happiness?

Mappiness has looked at the data from 15,444 people across 138,407 observations. Warmer temperatures tend to help the average person feel happier than colder temperatures (+4). However, rain negatively impacts people’s moods more than cold weather (-11). If it is sunny, it makes a slight positive difference to how people feel, but not too much (+1.1).

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The average person doesn’t enjoy working or studying

Working and studying tend to make people less happy while they are doing it (-5.43). It doesn’t mean that we should all go out and quit our job tomorrow. Most people need the money and are likely to be more satisfied in their overall lives with a job than if they are unemployed. However, while at work, the average person would rather be doing pretty much anything else. Out of the 39 activities, only being sick in bed was rated less enjoyable. Friday is the happiest day of the workweek because people look forward to not having to work on the weekend. Saturday and Sunday have the highest happiness ratings throughout the week and are pretty similar to each other.

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Socializing more can make you happier, as long as it’s not with your boss

Spending time with close friends makes us the happiest (+8.19). Followed by time with a spouse or partner (+5.91). Then other family members (+2.94). Time with children produces slightly more happiness than being alone (+1.4), but higher than time with clients, customers (+0.72), colleagues, classmates (+0.64), and other people the participant knows (+0.66). Notice how these social interactions produce more happiness for the average person than being alone. Being with one’s boss is the only social interaction rated less pleasantly than being alone (Kahneman et al., 2004).

Which activities do people do the most?

Regarding the type of activities, the most frequently reported activities were working or studying (27.4%), watching TV or a film (17.8%), talking, chatting, socializing (14.2%), sleeping, resting, relaxing (9.6%), eating, snacking (9.5%), travelling, commuting (9.1%), listening to music (6%), drinking tea/coffee (5.4%), drinking alcohol (5.2%), or housework, chores, DIY (4.9%).

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Which activities increase your happiness?

The activity that tends to make us feel the happiest at the moment isn’t too much of a surprise, with intimacy or making love the highest rated by a long way (+14.2). Going to the theatre, a dance, or a concert is the second highest (+9.29), followed closely by an exhibition, museum, or library (+8.77).

Physical activities or being in nature all seem to score high, with sports, running, exercise (+8.12) the fourth highest, and then gardening (+7.83). Birdwatching or nature watching (+6.28), walking or hiking (+6.18), and hunting or fishing (+5.82) all continue this trend. The activities rated higher are singing, performing (+6.95), and talking, chatting, and socializing (+6.38), especially with close friends and partners.

Typically overrated activities include more passive ones, including watching TV or a film (+2.55), drinking tea/coffee (+1.83), reading (+1.47), listening to a speech or a podcast (+1.41), sleeping, resting or relaxing (+1.08), browsing the internet (+0.59), texting, email or social media (+0.56).

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Which activities reduce your happiness?

Activities that tend to reduce happiness levels include housework, chores, DIY (-0.65), commuting (-1.47), or being in a meeting or class (-1.5). Worse still is doing admin or organizing or doing finances (-2.45), waiting, queueing (-3.51), caring or helping adults (-4.3), working or studying (-5.43), and being sick in bed (-20.4).

You can’t avoid all of these activities. Still, knowing how negative they typically are can be helpful. For example, choosing a place to live closer to work where you can walk or ride rather than commute could make a positive difference in your mood. As could paying for someone to clean your house or iron your clothes if you don’t enjoy doing this.

I don’t enjoy unnecessary meetings, so minimising these as much as possible could help. Likewise, I could try to find a job with more of the work I enjoy and less of the stuff I do not. I could try not to work too many hours each week. Finally, I could try to look after my health as much as possible so that I am not in bed sick too often.

I want to thank Seth Stephens-Davidowitz for sharing these interesting insights alongside many others in his latest book, ‘Don’t Trust Your Gut’. If you’d like to see how Big Data can help you to understand yourself or people better, I’d recommend checking out this book as well as his first one ‘Everybody Lies’.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Published by Dr Damon Ashworth

I am a Clinical Psychologist. I completed a Doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at Monash University and a Bachelor of Behavioural Sciences and a Bachelor of Psychological Sciences with Honours at La Trobe University. I am passionate about the field of Psychology, and apply the latest empirical findings to best help individuals meet their psychological and emotional needs.

11 thoughts on “Which Activities Make Us the Happiest?

    1. Intuition can be really useful in most situations, but it’s not always accurate. I would never recommend for people to never trust their gut, but to understand that it isn’t always right, and the moments when things don’t feel right can be a good time to think about the situation in more detail or talk to someone you trust.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I went on a date with the man who would be my 2nd husband because of a dream about going on a date with him. It was the best marriage. Unfortunately, he was taken from me after 10 years of marriage, but he fathered 2 of the world’s best children. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  1. Mindfulness has contributed greatly to my sense of happiness. I am noticing little things more and savoring the moment of ordinary everyday circumstances. I also make a point to talk to strangers more than I did in the past, simply exchanging pleasantries with people (as when standing in line at the bank). It can make situations lovely. There’s a lot going on in any setting that often escapes one’s notice. If instead you become more of an observer, I think you find that there are small marvels all around.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Definitely. I can’t remember who said the exact words, but it was along the lines of “a distracted mind is an unhappy mind.” By being more present and open to whatever is occurring can increase happiness, and I am glad to hear that it has done so for you!

      Liked by 2 people

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