Jose Luis Pelaez Inc—Getty Images/Blend Images
By Eric Barker
March 29, 2014

What’s the research have to say about making Friday through Sunday that much better…?

For The Most Part, Don’t Trust Your Instincts

Ever eat or drink too much, feel awful, then do it again… and feel awful again? As counterintuitive as it may sound, we’re actually pretty bad about remembering what really makes us happy.

Reading Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert’s bestselling book Stumbling on Happiness my main takeaway was this:

In Gilbert’s own words (and backed up by many studies):

When most of us have leisure time, do we do what truly makes us happy or do we opt for what’s easy? Easy wins it most of the time.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

The things we frequently choose to reduce stress are often the least effective:

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

So What Works?

Spending time with friends on the weekends definitely helps:

But you knew that already. What are we missing?

Research shows that “mastery experiences” are also key to helping people recover from the workweek.

So what’s that mean? Doing stuff you’re good at and trying to get better.

Maybe that sounds like “work” to some people but research shows we’re happier when we’re busy, mind-wandering makes us unhappy and watching TV for too long is depressing.

Mastering a skill is stressful in the moment but makes us happier in the long term.

People who deliberately exercised their signature strengths on a daily basis — those qualities they were uniquely best at, the talents that set them apart from others – became significantly happier for months.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

This has been shown repeatedly in research studies.

So practice a skill this weekend. Do what you’re good at and get better. Become an expert. (Here’s how.)

What Else Works?

There are other things that research has shown to help us decompress:

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

And wouldn’t it be great to have some luck this weekend? Luck isn’t magic. It’s been studied and there’s a science behind it.

The secret to being luckier is to be open to more opportunities, to interact with a large network of people, to break routines and keep a relaxed attitude toward life.

Final Note: The Week Isn’t That Bad

Studies show the saddest day of the week is actually Sunday. The research is pretty consistent — Mondays are never that bad and Fridays aren’t that great.

So why do we still not like Mondays? Because you’re focused about how you predict you’ll feel, not how you actually feel in the moment.

If you are dependent on your weekends to bring you happiness, you may want to look for another job. Studies show that people with good careers don’t experience as much of a boost on the weekends — because they don’t need to:

Weekends make much less difference for people who work in open and trusting environments. They simply exchange one set of friends for another on weekends.

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Related posts:

Here are the things that are proven to make you happier

10 things you should do every day to improve your life

10 things should you do every *week* to improve your life

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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