Summary: Binging on food or activities that we enjoy actually may make us less happy, says a research study.
The obvious answer to why overworking tends to make us unhappy is the added stress, because it causes anxiety and physical tension in the body such as clenched and even knotted muscles. It also causes our cortisol levels to rise and elevated cortisol is associated with fatigue, irritability and insomnia.
However, there may be another component to unhappiness related to binging behavior like overworking, according to a new research study. Scientists had 55 human research subjects eat a piece of chocolate and report on their happiness. Then they divided them into three groups and asked them to not eat chocolate for a week, eat as much chocolate as they wanted, or do whatever they wanted.
Some might expect the group that got to eat as much chocolate as they wanted would report the most happiness. It actually turned out it was the group that did not eat any at all that reported the most happiness. The ones that binge ate chocolate reported the least amount of happiness!
So, how could it be that overindulging in chocolate (or overindulging in anything) could generate less happiness, when 'getting what we want' is generally what people believe will make them happy? A clue may be found in the title of the research study, Give It Up: A Strategy for Combating Hedonic Adaptation.
Hedonic adaptation basically means we get to used to new happy experiences fairly quickly and then our happiness level usually goes back to where it was before. Even if you like your job, if you do it too much, you may be decreasing the happiness associated with it. According to the research study it would be better to take all your breaks, not work on weekends or after getting home on week days, and take all vacation and holidays. Overworking might even generate enough unhappiness that you mistakenly think you don't like your job anymore and want to quit.
A more common example of hedonic adaptation might be what happens to some newly married couples. After the initial spike of happiness and glow, their happiness tends to reset as well, and they experience the downward movement as a reason to potentially end their relationship, 'When married couples reach the two-year mark, many mistake the natural shift from passionate love to companionate love for incompatibility and unhappiness. ' (Source: New York Times)
Whether it is your job, food, entertainment or romance, overindulging can make you unhappy and a potential solution is simply to stop the binging behavior and practice some restraint.