Here’s Why Weekends Don’t Always Make Us Happy

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

If you have a traditional full-time job, the weekend is probably very important to you. It’s a chance to unwind, catch up on sleep, recharge, and have fun with your family and friends. The nine-to-five grind can be tiring, and depending on the job, even demoralizing, so the weekend ends up playing the role of a much-needed respite. For this reason, it’s important to many American workers that their weekends not be taken away. In some cases, the weekend is when workers are at their happiest.

In the words of Loverboy, “Everybody’s working for the weekend.” Right? Well, maybe not everyone.

In a July 2015 NBER Working Paper by researchers John F. Helliwell and Shun Wang, the authors set out to test how U.S. workers’ emotions change from the weekday to the weekend. Using Gallup surveys taken over four years, the study measured how feelings of happiness, enjoyment, laughter, worry, sadness, and anger for both full-time and part-time workers fluctuate throughout the week. With a specific interest in how social context impacts feelings of happiness, Helliwell and Wang found the results are largely dependent on your job satisfaction and weekday social life.

Full-time workers experience larger weekend effects than part-time workers. The lone exception was for sadness, which actually remained the same across full-time and part-time workers. Perhaps most interestingly, the “weekend effect,” as the study’s authors call it, was largely dependent on the worker’s workplace social context. Workers who liked their jobs, bosses, and coworkers and those who enjoyed socializing at work didn’t experience a happiness boost on the weekend. These workers get as much pleasure from their weekdays as they do from weekends, especially if they maintain healthy social lives outside of work throughout the week. These satisfied workers actually experienced less laughter on the weekends, though happiness and enjoyment stayed about the same.

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

“The quality of the social contexts on and off the job are the primary forces behind weekend effects in the subjective well-being of the working population of the United States,” the authors write.

Bloomberg outlined the overall “weekend effect” for U.S. workers in the graph below. These are the averages across all workers, not just the very satisfied and social ones. You’ll notice that the most dramatic changes were decreases in worry, anger, and stress on the weekend. The average boost in happiness on the weekend, though observable, is actually less significant than one might expect.

weekend effects on emotions of workers


“The whole idea of people liking weekends better than weekdays because work is hell, that isn’t necessarily the case,” John Helliwel told Bloomberg. “Why should it be? If you’re doing something important and interesting that you like, that sounds more fun than watching a movie or reruns on TV.”

There’s nothing wrong with taking pleasure from what you do professionally. Not everyone is lucky enough to find a job they love, but for your own well-being it may be worth a thorough search. If you’re thinking about leaving a job that fails to bring you fulfillment, this is just more evidence that it’s probably a good idea to walk away. If that isn’t an option, hopefully you’re able to make some changes in order to find more meaning and passion in your career. It will likely translate into improved health and happiness — every day of the week.

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