A study using a new method to measure happiness (we’ve covered this field extensively, e.g. here) turned up some surprising findings, the New York Times and the NIH report. A team of psychologists and economists—led by Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman of Princeton—used the so-called Day Reconstruction Method to study daily mood swings in 909 women from Texas. The women kept a diary of everything they did during the day, and then later rated how they felt during each activity.

Contrary to previous research on daily moods, the study found that the women rated TV-watching high on the list, ahead of shopping and talking on the phone, and ranked taking care of children low, below cooking and not far above housework.

Not surprisingly, commuting and spending time with one’s boss anchored the low end of the pleasurability scale. And sleep affected everything: a night of poor sleep could make an activity as joyless as commuting.

  • Most surprising, perhaps—and consistent with several other recent studies–was that money had little to do with mood. After controlling for other factors, the researchers found that even differences in household income of more than $60,000 had little effect on daily moods.

    The investigators hold that the Day Reconstruction Method allows people to more honestly assess happiness by tying moods to a specific activity, while acknowledging that mood is but one element of the complex phenomenon of human well-being. In any case, this study is yet more evidence of the maturation of the field of “happiness economics,” which Kahneman and others hope will bring us closer to a national indicator of well-being as influential as the GDP. Now that would be something to smile about.