Andy’s Quick Hits (71): All Work And No Play…Increases Stress and Decreases Happiness

Andy Hab
3 min readAug 24, 2021

We all know the old saying of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” often used to recommend easing up a little. Research, hot off the presses, has not only proven this, but shown that for a healthy life it is actual very important advice to follow.

This was shown in a series of studies by researchers around Gabriela Tonietto of Ohio State University measuring a common belief in modern society that productivity is the ultimate goal and you’re just wasting time if you’re having fun. Those who most strongly agreed with this belief enjoyed leisure less (not surprisingly), but also showed poorer mental health levels.

For example in one study of 199 college students they were asked how much they agreed with five statements such as: “Time spent on leisure activities is often wasted time”. Those who reported leisure time as more wasteful enjoyed leisure time less. So far nothing unusual but we could just ascribe this to personality. “Some like this leisure stuff, others don’t”.

But when it came to other measures there were also dramatic differences. Notably those who reported leisure time as wasteful had higher rates of depression, lower levels of reported happiness, higher anxiety, and higher stress!

“There is plenty of research which suggests that leisure has mental health benefits and that it can make us more productive and less stressed,” -Selin Malkoc

This is in one hand unsurprising because less leisure leads to less positive chemicals circulating in the brain and body. On the other hand it is surprising because personality theory suggests that people should be attracted naturally to what is best for them personally and not an ideal standard. This suggests this is not true. To test this, though, an intervention study would need to be designed — take those leisure is waste thinkers and enable them to enjoy…

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Andy Hab

Sharing fascinating, fun, and important knowledge on the brain and human behaviour - most days. And masters track athlete - still going strong!