Monday, November 28, 2016

Does Variety Make Us Happier?

We have all heard the expression, "Variety is the spice of life."  Is it true?  Do we value variety highly?  Does it make us happier?  Years ago, social psychologists Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham developed their now-famous job characteristics model.  They argued that five key characteristics affected outcomes such as job satisfaction, intrinsic motivation, and quality of work produced.  One of those job characteristics was skill variety.   If a job required employees to employ a variety of skills and capabilities, that had a positive effect on these key outcomes.   

New research by Jordan Etkin and Cassie Mogilner looks at variety in a slightly different context.  They conducted a series of experiments to explore whether engaging in a variety of activities increased happiness. They found that variety had a positive impact, but only if that variety did not occur in a very short period of time. Etkin explains in this article from Duke's Fuqua School of Business:

"It seems the pivot point is around a day," Etkin said. "We find that over longer periods of time — a day, a week or a month — spending time on more varied activities does lead people to feel happier afterwards. But over shorter time periods — an hour, 30 minutes or 15 minutes — people feel less happy after spending time on more varied things."

Etkin went on to explain why too much variety in a short period of time could have a negative effect on happiness:

"When people think about variety, they think it's exciting, stimulating and interesting. But we also derive a lot of happiness and satisfaction from feeling we accomplished something with our time. What we find is that shorter time periods really don't give people enough time to transition between varied activities and still feel productive."

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