If your plans for Saturday include a walk in the park and vacuuming your house, which will you do first? Many factors, like the weather forecast, or the time your in-laws are arriving, could go into that choice. But it might surprise you to learn that such an everyday decision strongly and predictably depends on what kind of a mood you’re in at the moment.
In an extensive study led by Harvard Medical School researcher Maxime Taquet, Ph.D., more than 28,000 people were contacted via a smartphone app at random times throughout the day for an average of 27 days.
They were asked about their mood and the activity they were doing. The results, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in August 2016, revealed that a person’s current mood will accurately predict what he or she will be doing and feeling in the next few hours.
While previous work in this area assumed that pleasure seeking was the strongest motivator of people’s choices, the study’s results challenged that idea.
It found that when people feel bad they seek mood-boosting activities, and when they feel good they choose necessary but less pleasant tasks. Current mood can double or triple the likelihood that you later engage in certain types of activities, according to the study authors.
Cut yourself some slack
Taquet says he has learned some life lessons from his own study. “When I’m rushing for a deadline and feel the urge to go out, see a friend, or do some exercise, I used to feel guilty, thinking that I was merely procrastinating or slacking off,” he says. “Now I know that this may be necessary to recharge my happiness battery so that I can carry on with my longer-term goal. This is an adaptive…