STRESS
November 17, 2009

Happiness Is A New Skill

As stressful as learning a new skill can be, the satisfaction and happiness we gain from our new level of competence more than makes up for it.

A new study finds that even though learning a new skill may cause a little stress or unhappiness along the way, the end−result – namely, competence – brings about levels of happiness that more than make up for it. The research was published (where else?) in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

While people reported that activities that increase proficiency at a particular skill tended to decrease happiness on an hour−to−hour basis, they also reported that their overall happiness levels were higher at the end of the day.

“No pain, no gain is the rule when it comes to gaining happiness from increasing our competence at something.” said Howell, lead author and researcher at San Francisco State University. In the study, the researchers had one group of people report happiness and stress levels every hour, as they engaged in various activities. A second group of participants rated these variables looking back on the day as a whole. The researchers were particularly interested in activities that were thought to increase a person’s overall satisfaction, like competence, connectedness to others, and autonomy.

While people reported that activities that increase proficiency at a particular skill tended to decrease happiness on an hour−to−hour basis, they also reported that their overall happiness levels were higher at the end of the day. Interestingly, activities that increased the feeling of connectedness to others or autonomy boosted happiness levels regardless of whether feelings were reported hourly or daily.

Howell says that the results of the study “suggest that you can decrease the momentary stress associated with improving your skill or ability by ensuring you are also meeting the need for autonomy and connectedness, for example performing the activity alongside other people or making sure it is something you have chosen to do and is true to who you are.”

He adds that the study’s focus is relevant to most people’s daily lives and struggles, particularly at work. He points out that “[p]eople often give up their goals because they are stressful, but we found that there is benefit at the end of the day from learning to do something well. And what's striking is that you don't have to reach your goal to see the benefits to your happiness and well−being.”

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