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No pain, no gain? Effect of short term pleasure on long term happiness

Written by Current Affairs, Science

I’m sure we’ve all heard it at least a hundred times throughout our lives, from our parents, friends (although usually in a different context), gym teachers and lecturers, but is there any truth to the saying? No pain, no gain? Let’s investigate. 

The University of Zurich is on the case, with Katharina Bernecker (researching Motivational Psychology) and Daniela Becker (from Radboud University) studying “hedonic goals.” Hedonic goals are short term goals that grant instant gratification, but do these have implications for long term happiness? The paper focuses on the phenomenon of hedonic goals with the consequences of success or intrusive thoughts, through a series of five studies. The main theory surrounding this paper is ‘Goal System Theory’ proposed by Kruglanski et al. (2002) and Trope & Fishbach (2000). This suggests that when the focal goal is hedonic in nature, it is also more intrusive and visceral due to associated short-term rewards. However, these may conflict with longer term goals, diverting attention and resources from the hedonic goal.

There was also a gender difference, with females reporting lower hedonic success and higher levels of intrusive thoughts. 

Study 1 is the spine of the paper, with a self report questionnaire investigating the success of pursuing hedonic goals and the accompanying intrusive thoughts about long term goals. The results of this study suggest that these factors were highly negatively correlated. There was also a gender difference, with females reporting lower hedonic success and higher levels of intrusive thoughts. 

This study supports the widely researched claim that self control aids positive well being.

Studies 2A and 2B are similar in the fact that they both measure overall subjective wellbeing and physical symptoms of discomfort and distress due to anxiety (somatization). To do this, 2A used the WHO-5 scale while 2B used the Satisfaction with Life scale. The findings of these studies found that hedonic capacity was positively related to the factors that support subjective well being. This study also supports the widely researched claim that self control aids positive well being too.  

The main obstacles to hedonic success (success in completing feel good activities) are intrusive thoughts.

Study 3 found that the main obstacles to hedonic success (success in completing feel good activities) are intrusive thoughts. This supports the idea that intrusive thoughts about conflicting long-term goals undermine hedonic goal pursuit. It is interesting to note that individuals with a greater capacity to feel hedonic experiences, also reported less intrusive thoughts.

Studies 4 and 5 contextualise the previous findings to everyday life (in nature, a park, a yoga class and a cafe). A notable finding in study 4 was that individuals with greater self control also reported higher momentary hedonic experiences (a happy/pleasurable experience at the time they were asked). Study 5 further extended the investigation into an everyday situation by asking volunteers over a period of 10 weeks to record wellbeing and momentary enjoyment at random times from 9am to 9pm to ensure mundane realism. Both studies support the investigator’s claim that hedonic capacity is an indicator for positive hedonic experiences, and thus hedonic success.

Self control was associated with high levels of enjoyment.

What’s the take home message? There may be some proof in the pudding, as high self control was associated with high levels of enjoyment. Further to this, intrusive thoughts (i.e guilt over not doing something that should have taken the time of the hedonic experience, such as an essay due the next day rather than drinks with flatmates) were a factor that both mediated and dampened hedonic experiences. Overall, it would appear that hedonic capacity and general wellbeing contribute to hedonic success, so to be more successful in your euphoric endeavours, check up on the rest of your life.

So next time you’re considering a couple of hours at the library or a double at The Hancock, don’t worry too much about it.

Featured Image: Pixabay

Last modified: 1st October 2020

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