Friday, June 29, 2012

What is the happiest day of the week?

Life can be tough at the start of the week. You've had lots of fun over the weekend, but now it's time to wake up early, and drag yourself to work or school. But is it really that bad? Surely after more than 10 years of schooling, you should get used to it, and adapt psychologically. As I mentioned in this post, the adaptation theory suggests that happiness levels revert back to some constant level over time. Hence, do people get happier as the weekend approaches, or have they adapted and are unfazed by the work-weekend cycle?x

To see how one's happiness changes over the week, I looked at the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being indexThe index surveys at least 1,000 adults in the US on many factors related to well-being on a daily basis, so it is pretty comprehensive. 

Since the survey is conducted everyday, we can use the Index to find out how happiness levels vary by day. The chart depicts the average well-being by day from 2008 to Feb 2012. The higher the blue bar, the more  happy people are. Happiness levels are, like Garfield, the lowest on Mondays, before rising as the weekend approaches.

What is interesting is that your weekend happiness does not start on Friday, but on Thursday! The 3-day weekend high spans not Friday to Sunday, but Thursday to Saturday. The rat race looms on Sunday, and happiness drops sharply. In fact, the average person is as unhappy on Sunday as mid-week, when work is really taking off. So the weekend really starts on Thursday, and ends on Saturday.

However, these higher levels of happiness might be the result of noise in the data, and not really because we like weekends. It is a little like this - pick three random letters, and there is some chance you might get a word like 'dog' or 'cat'. If we see the word 'dog' or 'cat' somewhere, how do we know if it was deliberately written, or just a random draw of letters?

To measure if the "Thursday-to-Saturday high" was the result of noise, I did a statistical test, and found that the odds that the Thursday-to-Saturday high was due to random noise was 0.0000000004%. Hence, in all likelihood, the Thursday-to-Saturday high does exist. 

The flipside is that we (or at least most of us) suffer a 4-day low from Sunday to Wednesday every week. Knowing this, we ought to give ourselves a happiness boost over this period. Although you need to stay in the rat race, do take coffee breaks, have a stroll in the park, play guitar, etc. just to let off some steam!

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