The Advantage of Busywork: Happiness

“We are hap­pi­er when busy but our instinct is for idle­ness”, says Chris­toph­er Hsee, a research­er at the Uni­ver­sity of Chica­go who has been study­ing the link between busy­n­ess and hap­pi­ness.

What this means is that work con­duc­ted merely to keep us busy (so-called busy­work) can actu­ally increase our hap­pi­ness, des­pite what con­ven­tion­al wis­dom sug­gests (Hsee’s study: Idle­ness Aver­sion and the Need for Jus­ti­fi­able Busy­n­ess).

This ‘futile busy­n­ess’ is defined by Hsee as “busy­n­ess serving no pur­pose oth­er than to pre­vent idle­ness” and is dis­played per­fectly in a study Hsee dis­covered show­ing this in action: at a Hou­s­ton air­port inund­ated with com­plaints, man­agers suc­cess­fully improved pas­sen­gers’ well-being by employ­ing a clev­er bit of reen­gin­eer­ing:

A closer ana­lys­is of the prob­lem […] revealed that the wait­ing time until lug­gage deliv­ery con­sisted of two com­pon­ents: a 1‑minute walk­ing time from the air­craft to the lug­gage carou­sel and a 7‑minute wait­ing time at the carou­sel […] As pas­sen­gers dis­em­barked from the air­craft and approached the carou­sel area, a cer­tain frac­tion of them (those with hand lug­gage) pro­ceeded dir­ectly to the taxi stand, boarded a taxi, and com­menced their work­ing day; those wait­ing at the carou­sel were afforded the oppor­tun­ity for sev­en minutes of watch­ing pas­sen­gers who dis­em­barked after them start their busi­ness day before them […]

The solu­tion to this prob­lem was to delib­er­ately rein­sert delays in the sys­tem. The air­craft dis­em­bark­ing loc­a­tion was moved out­ward from the main ter­min­al, and the most dis­tant carou­sel was selec­ted for deliv­ery of lug­gage, so the total walk time was increased from one to six minutes. After this inser­tion of delay was suc­cess­fully com­pleted and the sys­tem was per­ceived to be more socially just, pas­sen­ger com­plaints dropped to nearly zero.

via The Browser