199 A Busy Bee is a Happy Be

Based on research based on Hsee, C. K., Yang, A. X., & Wang, L. (2010) by Mara Rowcliffe, MS.

Are you happier being busy, or do you prefer having free time on your hands.

University of Chicago researchers wanted to understand the psychology of being busy versus idle. They instructed 150 participants to fill out two surveys with a waiting time in between. While waiting, half of the participants were given a choice — to either walk to a distant location or wait idly. Part of that group was given a candy incentive to walk while the others did not receive an incentive. The other half of the participants did not have a choice or receive candy. In that group, half were asked to wait, the other half were sent to the distant location. Afterwards, researchers assessed participants’ mood.

Results revealed people chose to be idle with time on their hands, if they did not have reason or incentive to be busy. However, minimal justification (candy) prompted more to seek busyness. But the real lesson is that people were happier when busy than when idle, even if busyness was forced.

So think carefully about choosing free time or idleness. Instead, to be happy, be busy! Provide minor incentives to exercise or get your work done!


Hsee, C. K., Yang, A. X., & Wang, L. (2010). Idleness aversion and the need for justifiable busyness. Psychological Science, 21(7), 926-930.

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