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Most theories of motivation have highlighted that human behavior is guided by the hedonic principle, according to which our choices of daily activities aim to minimize negative affect and maximize positive affect. However, it is not clear how to reconcile this idea with the fact that people routinely engage in unpleasant yet necessary activities. To address this issue, we monitored in real time the activities and moods of over 28,000 people across an average of 27 d using a multiplatform smartphone application. We found that people's choices of activities followed a hedonic flexibility principle. Specifically, people were more likely to engage in mood-increasing activities (e.g., play sports) when they felt bad, and to engage in useful but mood-decreasing activities (e.g., housework) when they felt good. These findings clarify how hedonic considerations shape human behavior. They may explain how humans overcome the allure of short-term gains in happiness to maximize long-term welfare.

Original publication

DOI

10.1073/pnas.1519998113

Type

Journal article

Journal

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date

30/08/2016

Volume

113

Pages

9769 - 9773

Keywords

decision making, emotions, happiness, hedonism, motivation, Affect, Choice Behavior, Female, Happiness, Humans, Male, Models, Psychological, Motivation, Philosophy