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Believe it or not: We’re happier on weekends

Believe it or not: We’re happier on weekends
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First Published: Fri, Jul 22 2011. 09 28 PM IST
Updated: Fri, Jul 22 2011. 09 28 PM IST
Weekends and Subjective Well-Being by John F. Helliwell, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and Department of Economics, University of British Columbia; and Shun Wang, Department of Economics, University of British Columbia
Isn’t it rather obvious that most of us enjoy weekends far more than weekdays? Monday morning blues have been well-known for ages. John F. Helliwell and Shun Wang, however, being economists, have to prepare a research paper before they can believe in popular wisdom. In their paper, they try to find out whether we are happier on weekends and, if so, by how much?
They use data from the Gallup-Healthways US daily poll, which asks respondents about emotions felt during the previous day, ranking them on a scale of 1 to 10. What they find is entirely predictable. Here it is, in their own words: “We find that US respondents are significantly happier, have more enjoyment, and laugh more, while feeling less worry, sadness and anger, on weekends (including public holidays) than on weekdays.”
Now why on earth should this be? Could it possibly have something to do with the fact that most of us are bound to wage slavery during the week and find time to relax only on weekends? Helliwell and Wang don’t put it quite that way, but their research seems to concur with that deplorably off-the-cuff remark. They say that “the size of the weekend effects for emotions is seen to depend on variables reflecting some aspects of the relative attractiveness of life at home and at work”. They find that those surveyed spent an additional 1.7 hours per day in the company of friends and family over the weekend and this “quality time” is the reason for the extra dose of happiness. What they do in the other 22.3 hours per day during the weekend is, however, unexplained.
The weekend effect is much lower for women than for men. Could it have something to do with women not taking kindly to husbands parking themselves on the couch in front of the TV all weekend, while they slave in the kitchen? Apparently not—the authors say it has something to do with the women working in happier places. Married couples enjoy weekends more than unmarried people. As Helliwell and Wang put it, “The fact that positive emotions are more frequent, and negative emotions less prevalent, on the weekends for the married implies that on average family relations are friendly rather than the reverse.” The implication is they are the reverse on weekdays.
The weekend effect is twice as much for those in full-time employment as for others. That’s not because these people hate their work, it’s probably just because they have less time for friends and family during workdays. What if you are stuck in a poisonous workplace where trust is low and the boss is an obnoxious creep? Helliwell and Wang have measured your distress precisely. They say, “Weekend effects are approximately four times larger in the case of laughter and sadness, two times larger in the case of happiness and anger, as well as one half larger in the case of enjoyment and worry, for those who are in low-trust workplaces.”
All this is fine, but exactly how much happier are Americans on weekends? Helliwell and Wang say that “the extra daily social time of 1.7 hours in weekends raises average happiness by about 2%”. Only 2%? I think we will do much better than the Americans.
Write to simplyeconomics@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Jul 22 2011. 09 28 PM IST