How Happy Do Weekends Actually Make Us?

A new study finds that people who like their jobs aren't any happier on the weekends

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Photographer: Getty Images

Working for the weekend? Only if you hate your job.

study (PDF) from the National Bureau of Economic Research has found that people who like their bosses and their work environments get as much pleasure from weekdays as they do from weekends.

Using Gallup surveys taken over four years, the study looked at how seven emotions of both full-time and part-time workers fluctuate through the week. As expected, most people feel less stress and more enjoyment on Saturdays and Sundays, a phenomenon that the researchers dub "the Weekend Effect."

But a certain class of people—"workers reporting favorable workplace environment"—don't see any Weekend Effect. Those with a trusting workplace and an immediate supervisor who is more like a partner than a boss are just as happy on weekdays as on weekends, especially if they maintain healthy social lives throughout the week. This demographic also reported experiencing the same amount of enjoyment and less laughter on the weekends.

A lot of social benefits derive from "the camaraderie of the water cooler," as Derek Thompson put it in last month's Atlantic cover story. We don't know what to do with too much leisure time. When not sleeping or doing chores, most Americans spend a good chunk of the weekend—more than three hours—in front of the TV, according to the most recent American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "The unemployed theoretically have the most time to socialize, and yet studies have shown that they feel the most social isolation," Thompson wrote. The fulfillment of a job is just as important as the time we get away from it. 

People lucky enough to have found their callings are happy all the time. "The whole idea of people liking weekends better than weekdays because work is hell, that isn't necessarily the case," says John Helliwell, lead researcher in the study and senior fellow at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. "Why should it be? If you’re doing something important and interesting that you like, that sounds more fun than watching a movie or reruns on TV."

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