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In a good mood? Take advantage and do something unpleasant but necessary

Women clean the floor with a broom on the balconyA new study suggests that emotions play a natural regulatory role in our ability to sacrifice immediate pleasure for long-term benefit.

Psychology professor James Gross, PhD, and collaborators examined the influence mood can have on the choice of activity. The researchers collected data on the emotions and activities of more than 60,000 participants via an app over the span of 27 days. Interestingly, when participants were feeling good they tackled less pleasurable, but necessary, activities like cleaning or paying bills. When feeling blue, they chose something more enjoyable like reading a novel.

Gross and colleagues call this phenomenon "hedonic flexibility." A recent Stanford news release explains:

Simply, people tend to use their good mood as a resource, allowing them to work on challenges, thus delaying short-term gratification for long-term benefits. Examples of such benefits include regular sleep, stable employment and a clean, well-organized personal environment – all of which are linked to good mental and physical health, the researchers noted.

The study showed that 'hedonic flexibility' was consistently practiced in a range of daily choices made by respondents, such as when an upbeat mood helps one endure a long line at, say, the post office or grocery.

Gross reflected on the implications of such a finding: "It could well be that those who are best able to achieve a healthy balance between the pleasurable and unpleasant are more likely to lead happier, more productive lives," he said.

The researchers plan to release the app as a tool for drawing on emotions to optimize productivity and happiness.

Previously: Angels and devils: A Stanford neuroscientist encodes the brain's role in decision-makingJumping on the "happiness track" with author and Stanford psychologist Emma SeppäläDecisions, decisions: How emotions alter our decisions and Hyperactivity in brain's "self-control" center may stifle the pleasure-seeking urge
Photo by Cade Martin, Dawn Arlotta, USCDCP

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