Mixed Feelings of Happiness and Meaning

When people are asked to score happiness and meaning throughout the day, like they were in the American Time Use Survey, scores tend to be higher, which is what you see in the averages. Generally speaking, people will say they are happy and what they do is meaningful.

However, while the averages give you a rough idea of how activities score, the distribution for an activity is often more mixed than just happy and meaningful. The chart below shows the distribution for 150 of the most common activities over the full range of scores.

More Meaning and Happy

The earlier activities are more one-sided towards higher happiness and meaning, so you see things like talking with and caring for non-household children. Move down towards looking after household children, and the scores are more mixed. As noted by Jim Vallandingham, there is a difference between being the fun uncle and the good parent.

Work is mixed. Schoolwork is mixed. Housework and chores are mixed. Pretty much anything that could be considered work is mixed. Financial management is all over the place.

The things that are meaningful in our lives are not always things that make us happy, and vice versa. It’s all about finding the balance.

The data comes from the well-being module of the American Time Use Survey. I downloaded data via IPUMS.

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