There has never been much focus on the activity patterns of happy people versus unhappy people in the ‘quality-of-life’ research literature. Generally, we tend to think of happy people as engaging in particular activities more so than people deemed unhappy. This article is based on a study published in Social Indicators Research journal (2008) in which researchers John P. Robinson and Steven Martin set out to examine whether this was in fact true and what types of activities happy people engage in.
Their study was based on public opinion data collected over a 34-year time span using a survey on social activities and media usage, in which about 90 minutes worth of material was collected to examine from approximately 45,000 people. The activities looked at in this study were mainly the type one partakes in during one’s leisure time such as socializing, church, TV, sex, sports, and a few others. Robinson and Martin made sure to control for other variables such as the participant’s age, education, and marital status, which are all found to be main predictors of both activity and happiness.
In addition to the GSS, researchers also collected data from “time-diary” studies because the diaries provided a wider range of activities to be examined, and there were only so few activities looked at in the GSS (10 total). The diary studies consisted of a 1975 Michigan University study that asked the participants how much they enjoyed a lengthy list of activities on a scale from 0-10 and a 1985 Maryland University study which used the same rating scale from 0-10, but administered it in “real time” in which the participants rated the activity while they were actually engaged in the activity itself during their diary day. Individuals who are happier seem to partake in more social activities, attend religious services more often, read the newspaper more often, and engage in more sexual activity (although not by much more after control for certain variables was accounted for).
TV viewing was the only activity to have an insignificant relationship with happiness and was shown to perhaps even reduce one’s happiness. Activities with children, socializing, and sex were at the top of the rating scales for all methods employed during this study, but it’s difficult to assess whether happiness influences one to perform these activities more often or if performing these activities will bring one to a state of happiness.
Whatever the case may be, it seems plausible that engaging in activities that involve other people are likely to have a positive relationship with happiness. This study exemplifies that human beings are social creatures by nature. When we relate to one another through verbal, sexual, or playful interactions, we form a natural connection. This study implies that happiness may be elicited in virtue of this connection. When we watch TV we have an artificial connection of some sort because there is no social interaction. Therefore, in search of the good life, we might all benefit if we interacted with one another more often, allowing more possibilities to form meaningful connections and relationships – and thereby making us happy. Get away from the TV and go mingle in some way, shape, or form!
Robinson JP, Martin S. What Do Happy People Do? Social Indicators Research Vol. 89, No. 3 December 2008.