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Why Tuesdays Are More Inspiring Than Fridays

How the pursuit of happiness can hide the experience of inspiration.

Source: mimagephotography/Shutterstock

We all want to be happy, and we all want to be inspired. But what if the pursuit of happiness blocks the arousal of inspiration?

One sweltering Tuesday afternoon in the summer of 1776, a thin and lanky young man slumped behind a desk in the tiny second-floor room of a red brick house on the outskirts of Philadelphia. The oppressive humidity made his thick, reddish-brown hair frizzier than usual. He swatted at houseflies buzzing through the window he had propped open in a feeble attempt at colonial-era air-conditioning. He sneered at the stable across the street—the source of both the flying parade of pests, as well as the unpleasant stench of horse dung.

Suddenly, inspiration struck.

Recent events, coupled with his skimming of the timeless treatises of John Locke and David Hume, stirred his imagination. One thought spilled into the next. Ideas poured from his pen.

Barely a day later, Thomas Jefferson had transformed a blank sheet of parchment into one of the most influential documents in Western civilization—a document that immortalized our relentless pursuit of happiness.

But here's the weird thing: When Jefferson felt inspired to promise us that we had the inalienable right to pursue happiness, he was definitely not happy.

Already a sad and shy homebody by nature, the 33-year-old had just found out that his wife, who lived hundreds of miles away on his nearly bankrupt family farm, was gravely ill. Just months before, for the second time in three years, a child had died in infancy. The ambitious junior statesman also firmly believed in the important work that was happening back at the Virginia statehouse. Yet he was trapped up north trying to manage a woefully underfunded and undermanned revolution, which had so far produced nothing but a string of humiliating defeats.

In spite of his misery, Jefferson was unquestionably inspired. But why?

Thank God It's Tuesday

Todd Thrash, a professor of psychology at Thomas Jefferson’s alma mater, the College of William and Mary, is a leading researcher on the scientific study of inspiration. A few years ago, Thrash stumbled onto something fascinating: He had rounded up a group of people and tracked how inspired they were, and how happy they were, on each day of the week. He discovered that people are happier on Fridays than they are on Mondays. (Shocking, I know.)

But what about inspiration?

It turns out that even though people are most likely to feel happy on Fridays, they are also least likely to feel inspired on Fridays. So on what day of the week are people most inspired? The same day that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. The same day that Mark Zuckerberg says he created Facebook. Possibly the most forgettable day of the week—Tuesday—is the king of inspiration. And not just by a little bit: The study found that inspiration is 79 percent more likely to occur on a Tuesday than on a Friday.

Friday is a day for fun. It's the day we cut loose from the cares of the workweek and have a good time. It's a day devoted to pursuing happiness—and that's a good thing.

Tuesdays are different. On Tuesdays, we find ourselves in the thick of the workweek, immersed in the challenging and inconvenient and stressful stuff of everyday life. It's a day for making things happen. That's also a good thing.

Discovering a New Kind of Happy

I have nothing against happiness. But the fact is that sometimes pursuing happiness inhibits inspiration. If we spend too much time fantasizing about Fridays, we can miss the unexpected joy of Tuesdays.

Many of the most inspired moments of our lives happen in the muck and mire of mid-week stress, when life is most challenging—when we're laboring to finish an important project at work, rallying a response to an unexpected dip in sales, begrudgingly accepting the coaching job for our kid's soccer team, eating up our leisure time by lending a hand or a heart to people in need, or simply helping a neighbor lug a comically oversized couch up four flights of stairs.

In those moments we don't always harvest happiness, but we do till the soil for inspiration.

Charles Wilson Peale/wikimedia
Source: Charles Wilson Peale/wikimedia

What would happen if we started looking forward to Tuesdays as much as we do Fridays? What if we pursued humanness with as much vigor as we pursued happiness? Would we feel less sedated and more alive? Would stressful changes start looking more like exciting adventures? Would we have more energy and live longer? Would we discover true happiness right where we least expect it—in the lives we are already living?

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