There's Nothing Simple About Simple Pleasures
These "little" guys have the power to transform your everyday life.
Posted December 13, 2016
Feeling pressed to get everything done at this time of year? Many people think the answer is to put their nose to the grindstone and put pleasure aside.
Recent research from my laboratory challenges that assumption. My colleagues and I found that a specific type of pleasure—namely, a simple pleasure—helps you to make progress on your daily goals, particularly when life feels challenging and stressful.
What are simple pleasures? We defined them as experiences that are brief, positive, emerge in everyday settings, and are accessible to most people at little or no cost. They are highly personal, meaning what is a simple pleasure for you may not be a simple pleasure for others. For the purposes of illustration, though, examples in our study included: Taking a walk in the sun, having a cup of tea with a close friend, or getting green lights all the way to work. What matters is that simple pleasures bring you joy and happiness, unlike temptations which bring torment and inner conflict.
To evaluate whether simple pleasures can, in fact, boost goal pursuit, my colleagues and I recruited 122 participants to complete an experience-sampling study over the course of six days. Every morning, our participants told us what goals they wanted to work on that day. Then, at five points during each day, we beeped them on their phones and asked them whether they were experiencing a simple pleasure, a small annoyance, or neither. (Small annoyances are simply daily hassles.) Finally, participants completed a ‘nightly diary’ each night of the study. They told us how happy they were with their day and whether they made more or less progress on their goals than they’d hoped for that morning.
Our results confirmed our hunch: Simple pleasures are essential for making progress on daily life goals. On days when people experienced very few simple pleasures, the minor irritations that characterize everyday life ate away at their goal progress. In contrast, on days when people experienced a high number of simple pleasures, they stuck to their goals, progressing on the tasks they had set out for themselves during that morning. The take-home message? Experiencing simple pleasures can buffer the harmful effects of small annoyances for goal progress.
Why are simple pleasures vital for goal progress? Modern day life is full of struggles and challenges, which erode the very psychological resources we need to make progress on our goals: Positive feelings. Our study suggests that simple pleasures have the power to restore those feelings of positivity and happiness, giving you the energy and perspective you need to pursue the difficult but important things in life.
Our conclusions may sound intuitive, but it’s surprising how easily people sweep aside simple pleasures because they seem superfluous compared to their daunting to-do list. Indeed, when our participants were pressed for time, the first thing they cut out of their lives were simple pleasures. However, according to our research, depriving themselves of nice things in life would harm not help their ability to make progress on their goals.
So, at this time of year, if you are feeling pressed for time and wonder how you can possibly manage to get everything done, just take a step back and enjoy a simple pleasure. Curl up by the fire with cocoa, send a warm text to a friend, or go for a walk and enjoy the sun. It may be just the trick for the next thing on your list.
To read more about this research, read this article:
Mead, Nicole L., Vanessa M. Patrick, Manissa P. Gunadi and Wilhelm Hofmann (2016), “Simple Pleasures, Small Annoyances, and Goal Progress in Daily Life,” Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, 1(4), 527-539.