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For a happier life, stop planning everything!

Credits: jill111 / Pixabay

According to an article that appeared in the journal Current Opinion in Psychology, written by Selin A. Malkoc of the Ohio State University and Gabriela N. Tonietto of the Rutgers Business School (United States), we need to stop planning out all of our free time activities, as this takes the fun and pleasure out of them.

Planned activities are far less pleasant than spontaneous activities, according to Selin A. Malkoc, associate professor of marketing in the Ohio State University, and Gabriela N. Tonietto, assistant professor in the Rutgers Business School. But why? Apparently because we tend to mentally group all of our planned activities in the same basket – whether it’s a dentist’s appointment (deemed unpleasant, unsurprisingly) or a coffee with a friend (deemed pleasant). The result: activities that should be fun or pleasant come to be seen as chores.

“It becomes part of our to-do list”, writes Selin A. Malkoc. “As an outcome, they become less enjoyable.” We plan our everyday activities, for fear of not getting everything done. Malkoc – who studies the way in which people perceive and spend their time – links the over-scheduling of free time to the value we put on achievement over enjoyment. “The focus on productivity is so widespread that people even strive to make leisure productive and brag about being busy,” she says.

The more we do, the less we enjoy. “When scheduled, leisure tasks feel less free-flowing and more forced — which is what robs them of their utility,” explains the researcher to the Washington Post. The article was partially inspired by research published by the same scientists in 2016 in the Journal of Marketing Research, which analyses the satisfaction people take from their leisure activities.

During the course of this study, 163 students received a hypothetical schedule of classes and activities. Some students were then invited to plan an outing to go for frozen yoghurt with a friend, two days in advance. The other participants, who were simply supposed to meet a friend, also ended up sharing a frozen yoghurt, but in a spontaneous way. The researchers then interviewed the students when they had finished this theoretically enjoyable activity. It was shown that those who had scheduled the outing two days previously – in contrast with the others – had viewed the activity as “forced” and didn’t particularly enjoy it.

So what should we do, then? Stop planning altogether? For the researcher, the ideal is to do “rough scheduling”. For example, you could plan a lunch or a drink after work, but without necessarily assigning a precise time for the activity. “As trivial as the change might seem, it has an important effect on human psychology: It reintroduces the flexibility to the leisure tasks”. 

As well as “rough planning”, the researchers also recommend that we stop trying to incorporate so many things into our lives. “Be more selective in what we choose to do … take the liberty to let things go….. This is not to say we should never make plans. But we can prioritize better and let go of our fear of missing out.”

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