There's a reason the acronym 'TGIF' has become such a widely-known expression; 'Thank God it's Friday' is a sentiment felt by people from all walks of life. Perhaps not surprisingly, this is confirmed by research--with other interesting results as well.
Researcher and psychology professor Richard Ryan and his colleagues from the University of Rochester tracked 74 participants (roughly 20 to 60 years in age) for three weeks, and measured their moods at various times of the day. What they found was that from Friday night to Sunday afternoon, participants were in better moods, showed greater vitality, and had fewer aches and pains among other things, a phenomenon known as the 'weekend effect'. This effect is largely associated with the freedom to choose one's activities and the opportunity to spend time with loved ones, the research found.
"Workers, even those with interesting, high status jobs, really are happier on the weekend," says Ryan, in a press release. "Our findings highlight just how important free time is to an individual's well-being." Ryan adds, "Far from frivolous, the relatively unfettered time on weekends provides critical opportunities for bonding with others, exploring interests and relaxing; basic psychological needs that people should be careful not to crowd out with overwork," Ryan cautions.
For the study, participants were paged randomly at three times during the day, once in the morning, the afternoon and the evening. When paged, they recorded the activity in which they were engaged and, using a seven-point scale, they rated their positive feelings like happiness, joy, and pleasure as well as negative feelings of anxiety, anger, and depression. They also recorded their physical symptoms of stress, such as headaches, digestive problems, respiratory ills, or low energy.
The results of the study showed that men and women from all socioeconomic levels, relationship situations, educational backgrounds, and all ages, consistently feel better mentally and physically on the weekend, regardless of how many hours they work.
Via follow-up questions, researchers found reasons as to why wellbeing tends to increase on the weekends: "People experience greater autonomy and relatedness, which are, in turn, related to higher wellness," say the researchers. By contrast, write the authors, the work week "is replete with activities involving external controls, time pressures, and demands on behavior related to work, child care and other constraints."
The work environment also plays a role. "To the extent that daily life, including work, affords a sense of autonomy, relatedness, and competence, well-being may be higher and more stable, rather than regularly rising and falling," the researchers conclude.
This study does more than merely conclude what most of us already know--that weekends are fun; it also shows the tangible positive effects that this fun can bring, and offers us clues as to exactly what makes weekends so beneficial to our wellbeing. As I read this, I am struck by how many of these positive elements of weekends can be incorporated into the rest of the week, to varying degrees. Some of these are things that you may have been meaning to ad to your life, but now we have even more reason to do so, and can see that even small changes can bring real results. Here are some things we may want to try:
- Stay Connected. One of the main benefits mentioned in the study was that people get to enjoy time with loved ones more on the weekends, and that this had a positive impact. You don't have to wait for the weekend to connect with people--you can stay in touch on the phone during the week, meet for lunch, and have occasional game nights during the week to add some fun and connection. (You may spend time with colleagues during the week, but try to think of the people you enjoy seeing on the weekends, and make an effort to connect with them more.)
- Do What You're Good At Many people have job descriptions that are set, but often people don't realize how much 'wiggle room' is possible in their job duties. Sometimes adding activities that you're really good at can be a win-win endeavor; you feel more accomplished, challenged, confident and competent, and your business benefits from your good work. (See this article for more about creating fun jobs.)
- Take a Break. Some of these weekend benefits can't be found at work, like the feeling of freedom and bliss that comes from having free time. Many of us have completely packed schedules, and don't even think about adding free time to the mix. In some situations, more free time really isn't possible for now, and must remain a goal to be worked toward in the future; but for many people, there is the possibility of cutting out activities that seem important but aren't vital, for the purposes of creating some space for you in your life--some free time! This week, think about what in your schedule might be trimmed, and what you might do with extra time if you were able to have a 'piece of weekend' during the week. Get inspired! (See this piece on creating a life plan.)
For more tips, see this article on finding satisfaction at your current job.
Ryan, R., Bernstein, J., Warren Brown, K. The Weekend Effect. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, January 2010.