Staying Busy Might be Just as Fulfilling as Striving for Goals

New research suggests that people feel a sense of satisfaction when they are doing something, regardless of what that something is. In the past, psychologists have geared their research toward finding specific achievements or goals that gave people a sense of fulfillment when they strived to attain them. However, these new findings indicate that people are just as satisfied when they are engaging in any activity, good or bad. The emphasis on life purpose does not appear to be as significant as reaching a certain level of activity.

Lead author of the article, Doroes Albarracin, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign began to notice that Americans showed a much higher level of general activity relative to people in other countries. “People have this inclination to do more, even if what they do is trivial,” said Albarracin. She has also studied the effects of cognitive activity on physical activity. For example, when she encouraged people to think about exercising and engaging in physical activity, the test subjects actually became more inclined to get involved with political activities.

People have a strong desire to engage in any type of activity, as long as it keeps them busy. They naturally strive to achieve a comfortable level of activity based on their needs for fulfillment. However, reaching and maintaining this level does not always mean that people will engage in healthy activities. Often people will engage in unhealthy behaviors and activities in order to fulfill their desired level. Experts have “the idea that people have these highly specific goals,” Albarracin says. “But quite often some significant proportion of our time is engaged in this global level – we want to do something, but what we do ends up not mattering much. You could end up with productive behavior, like work, or impulsive behavior, like drug use.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Dean


    May 3rd, 2011 at 4:22 AM

    I know that this definitely holds true for me. Any time I have some down time that is when I have time to think and get too depressed. But when I keep my mind and body busy then I seem to be in a much better way.

  • norah


    May 3rd, 2011 at 5:59 AM

    he,being involved with something makes me feel a lot better than when there’s nothing to do. I’m not a workaholic or anything but when it’s work time I prefer to have something to do and not just sit around lazing.

  • Amoeba


    May 3rd, 2011 at 7:10 PM

    I don’t think just being busy with ANYTHING would make me feel content. I try and evaluate my day and the day’s achievements before I go to bed every night and only if I’ve done something constructive would I feel like I’ve gained something.

  • Diane


    May 4th, 2011 at 4:39 AM

    I have always felt that giving your body and your mind something to do is a much better way to live that sitting around idly waiting for something to come along.

  • Kate


    May 10th, 2011 at 11:01 PM

    I hate doing anything that takes a lot of time but I prefer it a thousand times over when I finally get around to finishing it. I don’t think the article is right at all.

  • Andy


    May 11th, 2011 at 11:42 AM

    I only kept myself busy all the time when I was quitting smoking. The devil makes work for idle hands, so it’s a good thing to keep yourself occupied. You don’t accomplish anything by being lazy.

  • Hugh


    May 11th, 2011 at 8:11 PM

    @Andy–I think it means like smoking or drinking when it says “Often people will engage in unhealthy behaviors and activities in order to fulfill their desired level.” When I was giving up smoking, I had a dollar coin in my pocket which I would flip all the time to keep my hands busy. It drove my wife crazy.

  • Ruben


    May 12th, 2011 at 8:57 PM

    I have a theory that folks keep busy to stop themselves from having to pause and think about where their life is headed and what it’s all about. No-one wants to ponder the big questions anymore like why are we here and where we fall in the Universal scheme of things. Where are all the philosophers nowadays?

  • Francine


    May 14th, 2011 at 10:56 AM

    @Ruben–On Facebook probably being very busy posting riveting status updates like “going to the store to buy milk.” There’s so much technology out there to distract them they have forgotten how to think. I agree with you totally that some use busyness as a form of avoidance.

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