Short-term pleasurable activities lead to just as much happiness as long-term goals requiring self-control, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Zurich and Radboud University in the Netherlands said it’s time to consider that short-term pleasures like relaxing on the sofa or savoring a nice meal bring the same type of life happiness as those such as getting in shape or learning a new language.
“It’s time for a rethink,” Katharina Bernecker, a researcher in motivational psychology at the University of Zurich, said in a press release. “Of course self-control is important, but research on self-regulation should pay just as much attention to hedonism, or short-term pleasure.”
The study, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, had participants answer a questionnaire based on hedonism. Participants were asked about their ability to focus on their immediate needs and short-term pleasures, while also measuring one’s “capacity to pursue hedonic goals” and whether that relates to well being.
Researchers found that some people “get distracted by intrusive thoughts in moments of relaxation or enjoyment” by thinking about other activities or tasks they could be doing, also known are FOMO (Fear of missing out).
“For example, when lying on the couch you might keep thinking of the sport you are not doing,” Becker said. “Those thoughts about conflicting long-term goals undermine the immediate need to relax.”
However, for people that can live in the moment, they tend to have a higher sense of well-being that extends beyond the short term, while making them less likely to suffer from depression or anxiety.
“The pursuit of hedonic and long-term goals needn’t be in conflict with one another,” said Bernecker. “Our research shows that both are important and can complement each other in achieving well-being and good health. It is important to find the right balance in everyday life.”
She added: “It was always thought that hedonism, as opposed to self-control, was the easier option… But really enjoying one’s hedonic choice isn’t actually that simple for everybody because of those distracting thoughts.”