Sex and alcohol top the list of things that bring people pleasure

Carsten Grimm, a UC postgraduate psychology researcher believes we need to become more sophisticated in how we examine happiness.

Couple in bed, feet showing

Photo: Masterfile

Sex, drinking alcohol and volunteering top the list. I’m not talking about people’s favourite things to do in university but the top-ranked daily activities that provide happiness. The findings come from a University of Canterbury research project examining daily activities that provide pleasure, happiness, meaning and engagement.

It’s an area of research that Carsten Grimm, a UC postgraduate psychology researcher is working on, believing that we need to become more sophisticated in how we examine happiness. “Psychologists are now able to identify that the things that add to our life satisfaction are not necessarily the same things that contribute to our daily well-being,” he explains. “Understanding those differences, and their implications for our societies, is one of my passions.”

Grimm goes on to explain that psychologists have noted that to increase their daily well being, people should go at it by measuring pleasure, meaning and engagement. So while pleasure refers to an activity that helps you feel good and you enjoy the sensory experience, engagement is when you’re totally absorbed in what you’re doing. And meaning? “Having meaning in your life is also a way to pursue happiness; being part of something bigger and contributing to the greater good,” he says. So drinking alcohol for instance measured high in the pleasure column, it ranked low in the meaning column.

Any other daily behaviour and happiness surprises? “Video gaming rated relatively high on pleasure and engagement, but was near the bottom of 30 behaviour categories on average meaning,” notes Grimm. “And the reverse is found also — where studying was low on pleasure, it was relatively high on meaning. So it’s an interesting way for us to think about what characteristics each daily activity tends to provide us with.”

Where does this leave us? How can we use this research to determine what will make us happier? “I found that people who endorsed all three dimensions — pleasure, meaning, and engagement — tended to be higher not only on life satisfaction, but also in daily well-being — how much happiness they experienced during the day,” Grimm says.

So ultimately if we want to boost our daily happiness levels, we need to focus on more activities that give us that happiness trinity — activities such as sex which give us pleasure, meaning and engagement. And given that social media activities such as Facebook rank in the bottom 10 lowest activities in all three of those areas, maybe it’s time to shut the laptop and hop into bed.

What ranks high on the list for you in terms of meaning?