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The Science Behind TGIF

Economist John F. Helliwell has data that backs up why Americans are significantly happier on weekends and public holidays than during the workweek.

As Charlie Brown has said for decades, happiness is a warm puppy. Researchers, however, say it’s really spending 1.7 hours more with family and friends. With help from Gallup, John F. Helliwell, an economist at the University of British Columbia, has discovered what seems, well, obvious: Americans are significantly happier on weekends and public holidays than during the workweek. In a recent study for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Helliwell and his colleague, Shun Wang, take a careful look at people’s daily emotions. Based on data that was collected by Gallup in a random telephone poll of 530,000 people of all ages, incomes and backgrounds, they find that:

• Married couples get the biggest weekend boost, so long as their families are “well-functioning.”

• “Blue Monday” is a myth. People report roughly equal amounts of happiness, enjoyment, laughter, worry, sadness, and anger on Mondays as on every other workday.

• Full-time workers get twice the weekend boost as the rest of the population.

The Nov-Dec 2011

This article appears in our Nov-Dec 2011 issue under the title "The Science Behind TGIF." To see a schedule of when more articles from this issue will appear on, please visit the
Nov-Dec 2011 magazine page.


• Americans spend 1.7 hours more with family and friends on weekends, for a total 7.1 hours of socializing per day, on average, compared to 5.4 hours on weekdays.

• People who work for a supervisor who acts more like a boss and less like a friend get twice the boost on weekends as people who work for a boss who does act more like a friend.

• Weekends make much less difference for people who work in open and trusting environments. They simply exchange one set of friends for another on weekends.

The researchers believe that quality of life depends just as much, if not more, on friendship, family, and a sense of belonging as on a material standard of living. A master of the obvious? Maybe not: Helliwell is one of a growing number of scholars and policymakers who are looking beyond the gross domestic product as the most important measure of living standards. Helliwell says. “It’s important evidence that creating a workplace where people want to be is a critical factor in the lives of the workers. It also feeds back into what kind of jobs they want and how loyal they are.” Measures of subjective well-being, Helliwell says, “permit a broadening and a better weighting of what really matters.” Armed with the knowledge that work has emotional costs for the typical American, he says, policymakers can come up with better ideas for improving people’s lives.

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