Can momentary discomfort, when caused by stepping out of one’s comfort zone to try new things, lead to greater long-term well-being?
Hypothesis: We predicted that interventions which cause people to stray from their typical routine would result in temporary negative moods or heightened levels of anxiety, but that these same experiences would be remembered fondly over time, and even improve overall well-being in the long term.
Experiment: We assigned subjects to one of two conditions. In the treatment condition participants received specific instructions at the beginning of each day oriented around trying new experiences. These instructions provided challenges getting people to try something new, increase their activity, foster social bonds, or eat healthy. Those in the control condition received no instructions each morning. Participants in both conditions were asked to track their mood throughout each day at randomly selected times and to report their overall well-being once a week.
Results: We found that those in the treatment condition were less happy on a day to day basis than those in the control condition. However, we found that on a weekly basis, there was no significant difference in life satisfaction.
Application: We often avoid doing challenging or unpleasant things in an effort to maintain happiness. And while these unpleasant routines may make things harder on a day to day basis, these results demonstrate that this effect does not translate to a more lasting impact on life satisfaction. These findings can be used to better understand the effects of something like exercise. While those who find intense exercise unpleasant may be less happy the day that they exercise, this research suggests that they will not be unhappy on a broader scale. Thus, despite appearances, they may not need to make a tradeoff between happiness and health.