Freakonomics: humans are happier when they’re busy, but they’re inclined towards idleness

July 23rd, 2010

From Freakanomics:

A team of researchers claims to have uncovered an interesting paradox: humans are happier when they’re busy, but we’re inclined towards idleness (“an evolutionary vestige that ensures we conserve energy.”)

This makes the Randian in me pleased. In my mind at least, nothing makes me happier than being productive and creating value. I loathe idleness, and am seldom not doing something.  Apparently, this evolutionary vestige does not plague me, as I rarely conserve energy.

More about the experiment:

Christopher K. HseeAdelle X. Yang, and Liangyan Wang ran a series of experiments with college students and found that students were inclined towards idleness, but would seize even superficial opportunities to be busy. Furthermore, students who took the opportunity to do something with their downtime reported feeling happier after the experiment.

Sadly, the authors make some absurd Kenysian/Cass Sustenian observations:

In keeping with the times, the authors see an opportunity for government intervention: “Governments may increase the happiness of idle citizens by having them build bridges that are actually useless.”

Let’s nudge people towards happiness by wasting the money and resources of productive people. Horrid observation.