If you're having a great time, what are you more likely to do next? Make a decision to do something fun, or something productive?

Harvard researcher Maxime Taquet and Jordi Quoidbach of the University of Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona wanted to know if there's a relationship between your mood right now, and what you're likely to be doing in a couple hours. After all, each of us only has about 600,000 hours, and they wanted to know how much mood influences how we spend at least the next few.

Their team used a smart phone app to interview and track 28,000 people for almost a month. They asked questions about what they were doing and how they were feeling at several points through out the day. The surprising results were just published by the National Academy of Sciences.

Happiness and work

The idea that if you're happy, you'll seek more happiness turns out to be wrong. We have a much more complex relationship between our changing moods and everyday activities. "Happy mood does not seem to be an ultimate goal, but rather a resource that people can use," Max emailed me. Happiness, in other words, is like work fuel.

"We demonstrated that people seek mood-enhancing activities when they feel bad and unpleasant activities when they feel good," he says.

If you're happy and you know it ...

When you're happy, you're more likely to dig into chores and work, the study found. When you're down, you're more likely to go enjoy yourself or indulge to feel better.

"Think about the times when you voluntarily decided to clean the house, do some extra work, or complete that task you have been putting off for weeks. It is quite likely that you decided to undertake those when you were in a relatively good mood," Max says. "In contrast, think about those moments when you have decided to have a drink with friends, take a walk out in nature or do some sport. It's quite possible that you have decided to do so at a time when you were feeling down. Our findings reveal that this pattern is shared among most of us."

Predict your pattern with the researcher's happiness app

Want to see for yourself? Max invites you to check out the web app to test how your current mood is about to inform the next few hours. The app will predict, based on the day, time and your mood, what you are most likely to be doing in a few hours--and it gets pretty detailed (TV, eating, friends, work, chores, childcare, etc.).

Productivity and mood

The researchers hypothesize that cultivating positive emotions may be the way to increase productivity. "People can capitalize on their positive mood to achieve long-term goals."

Similarly, when someone is depressed, Max points out, our traditional way of thinking may be off. "Common wisdom is often that a person in a bad mood should redefine long-term goals and make plans to achieve them, instead of indulging in short-term pleasures, such as eating that big chocolate bar. But our findings suggest that indulging in such short-term pleasures may be the prerequisite to subsequently achieve longer-term goals, because increasing our mood enables us to subsequently engage in unpleasant activities," he says. (And of course, science says chocolate is proven to improve mood.)

When people are feeling up, taking on work turns out to be a natural response. For employers and managers, this research underscores the wisdom that a happy team is a more productive and engaged team.

Published on: Aug 22, 2016