People who pursue happiness often feel like they do not have enough time in the day, and this paradoxically makes them feel unhappy, according to a new study.
"Time seems to vanish amid the pursuit of happiness, but only when seen as a goal requiring continued pursuit," said study co-author Aekyoung Kim from the Rutgers University in the US.
For the study, published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, researchers conducted four studies in which they investigated how the pursuit of happiness as well as the state of being happy influenced people's perception of time.
In the studies, some participants were either instructed to list things that would make them happier or asked to try to make themselves feel happy while watching a dull movie about building bridges, thus demonstrating happiness as goal pursuit.
The other participants came to think of happiness as a goal that they had already accomplished, achieved by watching a slapstick comedy (rather than the bridge movie) or listing items showing that they are already happy.
Afterwards, all participants reported how much free time they felt they had.
The findings showed that a person's perception of time scarcity is influenced by their pursuit of (often unattainable) happiness.
The feeling that time was scarce lessened for participants who maintained that they had attained their goal of being happy to some degree.
"This finding adds depth to the growing body of work suggesting that the pursuit of happiness can ironically undermine well-being," Kim added.
"By encouraging people to worry less about pursuing happiness as a never-ending goal, successful interventions might just end up giving them more time and, in turn, more happiness," the researchers noted.