Busyness = Happiness

Let’s face facts: You’re lazy

  • You watch tv instead of tackling that pile of dirty laundry.
  • You surf the net instead of getting some exercise.
  • You play video games instead of preparing a healthy meal for tomorrow’s lunch

And you’re not alone. Even me…Mr. Health Habits can be a lazy couch potato (usually during NFL Sunday afternoons).

But, what if I told you that waaaayyyyyy down deep in your primal DNA, you actually hate being lazy and instead you crave activity.

What if I told you that for each & every one of us….busyness = happyness….Would you believe me?

Would you believe these scientists when they hypothesize that:

  1. People dread idleness and desire busyness, but
  2. Without a reason to get busy, we revert to laziness.

The Science

The researchers grabbed 98 college students and told them to fill out a bunch of surveys about their school and that they could do nothing else during the experiment.
  • After leaving their belongings (e.g., cell phones, books) with the experimenter, participants were given the first survey.
  • Upon finishing the survey, they were told that the second survey would not be ready for another 15 min and that they were to drop their completed first survey at a designated location during the waiting period.
  • There were two such locations, one nearby (right outside the room) and the other far away (a 12- to 15-min round-trip walk).
  • Participants could either deliver the survey to the nearby location and wait out the remaining time (the idle option) or deliver the survey to the faraway location, return, and then wait out the remaining time (the busy option).
  • In both cases, they would receive a piece of candy when they dropped off the survey, as a token of appreciation.
  • Some participants were told that the candy was the same in both locations while others were told that there were 2 different types of candy and that they would be chosen at random.
At the end of the 15-min waiting period, all participants were given a second questionnaire that asked, “How good did you feel in the last 15 minutes?”
Responses were made on a scale from 1 (not good at all) to 5 (very good)
The Results
  1. In the “same candy” group, most participants were lazy and chose the closer location
  2. However, in the “random candy” group, more participants chose the faraway or “busy” location

The potential of a “better” candy was enough of an incentive to convince the participants to reject the “lazy” option and to choose the “busy” option.

And when they were asked how they felt during the past 15 minutes:
  • The participants who chose the faraway or “busy” option were universally happier than the lazy participants.



  1. We’re happier when we are busy
  2. We’re less happy when we are lazy
  3. And yet, without a “reason”, we choose laziness over busyness.

As if being happy wasn’t enough of a reason.


  1. I totally agree with this!!! I find that if I don’t have a scheduled reason to get out of bed in the morning I can over sleep for hours and then for the rest of the day I am groggy, have a headache, and feel miserable. Getting up early and with a scheduled purpose makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something in the world. Thank you for sharing this experiment. It reinforced for me the importance of staying active.

  2. I certainly agree that it’s better to be active than sedentary, especially given new evidence that sitting increases all-cause death rates even when subjects exercise.

    However, this study seems to show only that people like doing something rather than doing nothing (remember the researchers took all personal belongings).

    If the study had allowed the waiting participants to watch tv, play video games or surf the web instead of taking a walk, the satisfaction rating might have been much more comparable despite the first group still not being active.

    I think it does show that busyness=happiness, but sadly, busyness does not often equal activeness.

  3. This is so true! I’ve out of school for some months now and I wake up with nothing to do these days.It’s depressing! Now I have more than enough time to worry over the tiniest problem just to keep busy.
    On the other hand,when I’m busy with school or work,I still complain BUT I don’t feel sad and the short resting periods I have,I really enjoy compared to waking up with a blank day ahead of me! It also helps my weight. I eat far too much when I’m bored and have time to wallow in self-pity..
    Thanks for sharing!

  4. So true! I also like to keep busy (going for long walks in nature, among other things) on the weekends so its easier to ease into the week and u don’thave so many Monday blues! If I have had a very lazy weekend I tend to be blue more on Mondays.

  5. With the weather being so warm this summer, me and my wife have been taking long walks around the city almost every night.

    So much better than watching ye old boob tube

  6. Yes, I believe you. Staying busy (blogging, working out, studying, casual reading, house chores, etc) is by far my best strategy in keeping with my diet. I find that I fall too easily to the couch potato syndrome and snack on unhealthy trash whenever I let my guard down, so I try to plan ahead as much as possible so this doesn’t happen.

    I never knew, however, that there were scientific studies to back this stuff up lol. Great stuff!

  7. When I’m in a crappy mood and find myself wanting to just veg and stuff my face, I find if I can just force myself to get moving, or even better, get outside, I always feel better.

  8. Jill

    Slightly off topic, but I was wondering if you know of any research showing the effect of physical activity on anxiety symptoms – short term, long term, etc..

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