'Weekend Effect' Makes People Happier Regardless of Their Job

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

From construction laborers and secretaries to physicians and lawyers, people experience better moods, greater vitality and fewer aches and pains from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, concludes the first study of daily mood variation in employed adults.
That "weekend effect" is largely associated with the freedom to choose one's activities and the opportunity to spend time with loved ones, the research found. The study appears in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

"Workers, even those with interesting, high-status jobs, really are happier on the weekend," says author Richard Ryan, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. "Our findings highlight just how important free time is to an individual's well-being."

"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.

The study tracked the moods of 74 adults ages 18 to 62 who worked at least 30 hours per week. For three weeks, participants were randomly paged three times during the day: once in the morning, the afternoon and the evening. When paged, participants completed a brief questionnaire describing the activity in which they were engaged, and using a seven-point scale, they rated their positive feelings, such as happiness, joy and pleasure, as well as negative feelings of anxiety, anger and depression. Physical symptoms of stress, such as headaches, digestive problems, respiratory ills or low energy, also were noted.

The results demonstrate men and women alike consistently feel better mentally and physically on the weekend. They feel better regardless of how much money they make, how many hours they work, how educated they are or whether they work in the trades, the service industry or in a professional capacity. They feel better whether they are single, married, living with someone, divorced or widowed. And they feel better regardless of age.

To tease out exactly why weekend hours are so magical, the researchers asked participants to indicate whether they felt controlled versus autonomous in the task they were engaged in at the time of the page. Participants also indicated how close they felt to other people present and how competent they perceived themselves to be at their activity.

The findings indicated that relative to workdays, weekends were associated with higher levels of freedom and closeness: People reported more often they were involved in activities of their own choosing and spending time with more intimate friends and family members. Surprisingly, the analysis also found people feel more competent during the weekend than they do at their day-to-day jobs.

The results support self-determination theory, which holds that well-being depends largely on meeting one's basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness. This study, conclude the authors, "offers one of the first substantive and theory-based explanations for why well-being tends to be more favorable on the weekends: People experience greater autonomy and relatedness, which are, in turn, related to higher wellness."

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." Workers also may spend time among colleagues with whom they share limited emotional connections.

The study also raises questions about how work environments can be structured to better support wellness. "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.

Susan Hagen

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 22, 2010