If you ever watched the show “Fraggle Rock” from the 80s, you’ll remember that the Doozers were little creatures who spent all of their time building things. Unfortunately for them, the Fraggles–a far lazier critter–loved to eat the Doozers’ buildings (though not the Doozers themselves) and summarily crushed the product of the little creatures’ hard work anytime they wanted a snack. But the Doozers never seemed the least bit frustrated by this and just kept right on building. A study from this year tells us that we’re better off being like the Doozers, though we’re wired more like the Fraggles.
“There are many apparent reasons why people engage in activity, such as to earn money, to become famous, or to advance science. In this report, however, we suggest a potentially deeper reason: People dread idleness, yet they need a reason to be busy. Accordingly, we show in two experiments that without a justification, people choose to be idle; that even a specious justification can motivate people to be busy; and that people who are busy are happier than people who are idle. Curiously, this last effect is true even if people are forced to be busy. Our research suggests that many purported goals that people pursue may be merely justifications to keep themselves busy.”
Participants were offered an identical reward (a chocolate candy bar) for either delivering a completed questionnaire to a location that was a 15-minute walk away, or delivering it just outside the room they were in and then waiting 15 minutes. 68% chose to deliver it just outside the room and wait. When the reward was changed to a slightly different chocolate candy bar, 59% chose to walk 15 minutes to deliver the questionnaire (and this held true even though both types of candy bars were rated as equally appealing by all participants).
Afterwards, participants who took the walk rated themselves as feeling significantly happier than those who sat it out. It appears that our first instinct is for idleness, but when given an excuse to be busy (even a meaningless one), we’re liable to act on it and consequently feel happier. But before you go looking for busy work, remember that our evolutionary vestige to conserve energy is tough to overcome. Believe it or not, laziness, in marginal doses, serves a purpose.
David DiSalvo, Neuro Narrative