Power of pleasure: Hedonism is key to living a happier life, study finds

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ZURICH, Switzerland — It can be hard to find the time to do absolutely nothing. Between work, school, family, or friends, it can seem like you always have something to do. Researchers in Europe say if you have a lot of self-control it might be time to “rethink” your life. A new study finds people who take the time for hedonism are living happier lives and suffer less depression.

Katharina Bernecker from the University of Zurich says most psychology experts believe self-control is vital to having a successful life. It helps prioritize your long-term goals and responsibilities over spontaneous pleasures and diversions. Self-control might keep your life in order, but the new research argues seeking pleasure and self-indulgence positively impacts your wellbeing.

“It’s time for a rethink,” Bernecker says in a university release. “Of course self-control is important, but research on self-regulation should pay just as much attention to hedonism, or short-term pleasure.”

Finding time for hedonism is harder than you think

Bernecker and co-author Daniela Becker of Radboud University used a survey to gauge how easy it is for people to pursue short-term pleasures. The questionnaire also tries to link successfully having a hedonistic moment to that person’s wellbeing.

It turns out, even if you find the time, your moment of bliss can be easily distracted. Some respondents say reminders of “real life” tend to creep into their thoughts while relaxing and having fun.

“For example, when lying on the couch you might keep thinking of the sport you are not doing,” Becker explains. “Those thoughts about conflicting long-term goals undermine the immediate need to relax.”

The participants who report they got to fully enjoy themselves were found to have a higher sense of well-being. The study authors add these people are also less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and other long-term mental health conditions.

Finding the perfect balance

The European team says one of the big takeaways is that people need to find a better balance in their lives. Simply trying to squeeze in more lavish meals and nights out at a bar won’t keep your mind from dwelling on your unfinished business.

“Really enjoying one’s hedonic choice isn’t actually that simple for everybody because of those distracting thoughts,” Bernecker adds.

COVID-19 continues to get in the way of happiness

The study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin finds there’s a new problem distracting people from their hedonic activities — the coronavirus. With more people working from home during COVID-19 lockdowns, Bernecker believes job stresses are likely invading the space people do most of their relaxing in.

So how do you truly enjoy yourself when you’re living in your office?

Researchers say all that self-control may actually help with this. Actively planning when you’re going to turn off all the outside distractions, clearing separating work and pleasure, can make your trips into hedonism more enjoyable.

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