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No Pain, No Gain Applies to Happiness, Too

Working to accomplish your goals may cause you stress in the moment, but will increase your overall happiness.

If you're working out to prepare for swimsuit season, learning a new language for upcoming travels or clocking late hours perfecting a presentation for work, you may experience stress in the moment, but you will have greater happiness on a daily basis and in the long run, according to a new study in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

Researchers found that people who engage in activities that increase competency, such as exercising, studying or working, experience decreased happiness, lower levels of enjoyment and higher levels of stress while doing so. Yet in spite of the negative effects they felt on an hourly basis, the participants reported that they felt happy and satisfied with the same activities when they reflected on them at the end of the day.

San Francisco State's Ryan Howell, an assistant professor of psychology, was quoted in a release: "People often give up their goals because they are stressful, but we found that there is benefit at the end of the day from learning to do something well. And what's striking is that you don't have to reach your goal to see the benefits to your happiness and well-being."

The study investigated whether people who spend time on activities that fulfill certain psychological needs — the need to be competent, feel connected to others and be autonomous or self-directed — experience greater happiness. They also examined the effects of fulfilling these needs on a person's moment-to-moment happiness.

For two days, participants in one group recorded what they did each hour, as well as the enjoyment and stress they experienced in that hour and whether the activities they participated in met their need for competency, connectedness or autonomy. A second group completed a similar survey but reported on the day as a whole.

Activities promoting autonomy and connectedness increased happiness on an hourly and daily basis, but the greatest increase in momentary happiness was experienced by participants who were involved in something that contributed to their sense of autonomy.

The authors believe that incorporating these psychological needs into workplace activities can help reduce employee stress. Howell argues, "Our results suggest that you can decrease the momentary stress associated with improving your skill or ability by ensuring that you are also meeting the need for autonomy and connectedness, for example performing the activity alongside other people or making sure it is something you have chosen to do and is true to who you are."

It looks like Albert Einstein had it right when he advised, "If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal."

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