177 // Key to Happiness, Pt. 2: Autonomy

This week, James builds off of a previous episode inspired by a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology. This study explained how creating and experiencing autonomy may be the most important ingredient influencing your day-to-day happiness.

 

What Makes Us Happier?

“Simply put, autonomy is the sense of wanting to take action instead of being coerced to do so,” says psychologist Atsushi Kukita from Claremont Graduate University and co-author of the study. “I believe that the sense of autonomy is something we intuitively value in society.”

To explore the connection between autonomy and happiness, Kukita and his team leveraged a methodology in which participants receive notifications at randomly programmed times throughout the day over the course of multiple days (six times a day for seven days in this study) via their cell phones.

 

Autonomy – A Key Point of Happiness

Upon receiving a notification, participants were invited to answer a short questionnaire that measured what they were doing (ex: working, playing, resting, studying, etc.) and how they were feeling at that present moment.

In terms of predicting how happy they were in that present moment, researchers found that it mattered less what people were doing and more whether or not they were engaging in an activity of their own volition.

According to Kukita, a practical message you could glean from this study is that people may not necessarily have to change what they do to experience more happiness—but doing what they already do differently could have favorable effects. The key to happiness here, or finding ways to be happier, is making an effort to know the difference between your “have-to’s” and your “want-to’s,” and try to see if your have-to’s are also, or could also be, want-to’s.

According to the authors, finding ways to turn have-to’s into want-to’s can have the following psychological benefits:

  • You will feel better.
  • You will be engaged more deeply.
  • And, you will find tasks to be more meaningful.
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