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Happiness study partially explains both road rage and World of Warcraft

March 18, 2013

A new study shows that people are happiest when they keep busy but do not feel rushed.

This has explanatory power for two distinct phenomenon.

Why commuting sucks

The happiest state is when you are busy but not in a rush.  Its opposite, the state of feeling rushed but not keeping busy, is uniquely unpleasant.  The two examples that spring first to mind are 1) waiting in line and 2) commuting.

With commuting it’s bad enough that you have to sit in a car, sometimes stalled by traffic, severely limited in what activities you can undertake… you also have a deadline.  You are rushed without the ability to make up for their time crunch except for speeding and, in traffic, some dangerous maneuvers.

People take these maneuvers, of course.  This state is so unpleasant that people are willing to risk their lives to escape it.  Less obvious, but almost as dangerous, are the methods that they use to avoid not being busy.  Some, like music or audio books, are relatively harmless.  Others, like putting on makeup or texting, are known death risks.

So yes, this state is bad.  People would, almost literally, rather die.

Why people love World of Warcraft

On the other end of the spectrum are activities like World of Warcraft.  There are always more things to do, but there is never any rush to do them.  Happiness dream.

There are other reasons people love it, of course, and many reasons why it can be an unhealthy habit, but the boost in happiness caused by having a full but unrushed life is enough to overcome an addict’s doubts.

But wait, there’s more!

How can we use this to shape life to our advantage?  Online pursuits, though rarely as satisfying as their real-life counterparts, offer the advantage of convenience.  Not convenience just for the lazy, but convenience for those who wish to avoid a happiness-destroying commute.  Faced with the choice between a mix of sharp pain and sharp pleasure vs a dull pleasure, many choose the dull pleasure.  Yet what’s good for facebook is not necessary good for civic life and human happiness.

This study is yet one more reason to cut out the car-bound suburbs (and all the waste it brings), then pack and shrink our cities until travelling (walking) to your events is almost as pleasurable as getting there.


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