The researchers [Norbert Schwartz, Daniel Kahneman, Alan Krueger, David Schkade, and Arthur Stone] assessed how people felt during 28 types of activities and found that intimate relations were the most enjoyable, while commuting was the least enjoyable.
More surprisingly, taking care of their children was also among the less enjoyable activities, although people generally report that their children are the greatest source of joy in their lives…
In addition to intimate relations, socializing, relaxing, praying or meditating, eating, exercising, and watching TV were among the most enjoyable activities. Commuting was the least enjoyable activity, with working, doing housework, using the computer for e-mail or Internet, and taking care of children rounding out the bottom of the list.
Interactions with friends and relatives were rated as the most enjoyable, followed by activities with spouses or significant others, children, clients or customers, co-workers and bosses. At the bottom of the list: activities done alone.
…"When people are asked how much they enjoy spending time with their kids they think of all the nice things—reading them a story, going to the zoo," said University of Michigan psychologist Norbert Schwarz, a co-author of the Science article. "But they don’t take the other times into account, the times when they are trying to do something else and find the kids distracting. When we sample all the times that parents spend with their children, the picture is less positive than parents expect. On the other hand, we also find that people enjoy spending time with their relatives much more than they usually assume."
General reports of what people enjoy may also differ from descriptions of how people actually feel in a specific situation because many people hesitate to report socially inappropriate feelings. This is less of a problem when they report on specific episodes. "Saying that you generally don’t enjoy spending time with your kids is terrible," Schwarz said, "but admitting that they were a pain last night is quite acceptable." The new Day Reconstruction Method provides a better picture of people’s daily experiences by improving accurate recall of how they felt in specific situations…
…general life circumstances—such as how secure people think their jobs are, or whether they are single or married—had a relatively small impact on their feelings throughout the day. These factors were closely linked with how satisfied people said they were with their lives in general, but had little influence on how positive they felt during specific activities.
"It’s not that life circumstances are irrelevant to well-being," notes Schwarz. "On the contrary, we found that people experience large variations in feelings during the course of a normal day. This variation highlights the importance of optimizing the allocation of time across situations and activities. If you want to improve your well-being, make sure that you allocate your time wisely."
Unfortunately, that’s not easy. When the researchers examined the amount of time spent on various activities, they found that people spent the bulk of their waking time—11.5 hours—engaged in the activities they enjoyed the least: work, housework and commuting.