If chilling out on the sofa or enjoying a cup of tea in the sun brings you joy, keep doing it.
Enjoying short-term pleasurable activities that don’t lead to long-term goals contributes at least as much to a happy life as self-control, according to new research from the University of Zurich and Radboud University in the Netherlands.
Research has devoted much time to finding out how we can reach long-term goals more effectively with the prevailing view that self-control helps us prioritise long-term goals over momentary pleasure.
However, Katharina Bernecker, researcher in motivational psychology at the University of Zurich, says it’s time for a rethink. “Of course self-control is important, but research on self-regulation should pay just as much attention to hedonism, or short-term pleasure.”
The researchers found that certain people get distracted by intrusive thoughts in moments of relaxation or enjoyment by thinking about activities or tasks that they should be doing instead.
“For example, when lying on the couch you might keep thinking of the sport you are not doing,” says Bernecker.
“Those thoughts about conflicting long-term goals undermine the immediate need to relax.”
The researchers found that people who can fully enjoy themselves in those situations tend to have a higher sense of wellbeing in general, not only in the short term, and are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, among other things.
“The pursuit of hedonic and long-term goals needn’t be in conflict with one another,” says Bernecker.
“Our research shows that both are important and can complement each other in achieving wellbeing and good health. It is important to find the right balance in everyday life.”