Micael Widell

Weekends: The Happiest Days of Our Lives

/ happiness

These days, I’m doing a lot of writing. I write six days a week, a minimum of six pages a day, on my second book. I also spend a couple of hours every day going through edits of my first book. And some other writing, like this newsletter. I enjoy it most of the time, but I still have to push myself to do it every day. Without the strict rules and habits of daily practice that I live by, my work would not get done.

Last Thursday I decided to reward myself with a free day, as I had been working for six days straight. I went into the city and did stuff I like to do for relaxation, such as going to a museum and then taking a walk with my camera, photographing flowers. Yesterday was a very happy day for me. The relief of now having to write, or to do the dreaded editing work. The freedom to do exactly what you feel like doing for a whole day.

On my way home from the city, I happened to hit rush hour. It was a long time ago I was in the subway during rush hour, as I normally work from home. I didn’t take a seat, but instead stood in the middle of the car, looking out over all the people that were on their way home from work. I observed their faces and expressions. When I was one of the many workers in Stockholm myself, I didn’t think of it much, but this time it struck me: Everyone looked so god damn unhappy. Jobs do not seem to make people very happy.

In a study from 2010, 74 participants were given a pager, that would ask them to rate their current happiness level and emotions at random times of the day and week. The results were not surprising: We are generally much happier between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. The researchers also found the likely reason for why people are happier during the weekend:

The findings indicated that relative to workdays, weekends were associated with higher levels of freedom and closeness: people reported more often that they were involved in activities of their own choosing and spending time with more intimate friends and family members. Surprisingly, the analysis also found that people feel more competent during the weekend than they do at their day-to-day jobs.

The results support self-determination theory, which holds that well-being depends in large part on meeting one's basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. This study, conclude the authors, "offers one of the first substantive and theory-based explanations for why wellbeing tends to be more favorable on the weekends: People experience greater autonomy and relatedness, which are, in turn, related to higher wellness." By contrast, write the authors, the work week "is replete with activities involving external controls, time pressures, and demands on behavior related to work, child care and other constraints." Workers also may spend time among colleagues with whom they share limited emotional connections.

So, would we all be happier if we, instead of jobs, all just had a basic income that would come to us every month to cover our expenses? I think so. I’ve had a couple of mini-retirements in my own life, living on saved money. It is an amazing feeling to wake up every day and to be able to do whatever you feel like doing that particular day. And to know that the next ten days, the next hundred days, will also be like this. I look back at these periods as the happiest of my life. My most recent one was the whole year of 2016.

Now that I’m working diligently towards goals again, I am not at that same happiness level as when I was completely “free” on a day-to-day basis. But on the other hand, with work, you get another kind of happiness. The kind of pride that you feel after completing a productive day. Moreover, when you push yourself towards a goal, you often push yourself into a state of flow as well, which I hold to be one of the highest forms of happiness you can experience in the moment.

Many argue that we are quickly approaching a society where most people do not have to work. In fact, the argument goes that soon there will not even be any work that a robot or a computer couldn’t do better, faster and cheaper. If this holds true, assuming that governments will not let people starve as the jobs go away, we should be approaching a society where people are much happier. This is an encouraging thought for the future of humanity. Enjoy your weekend!

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