Two new surveys have found that people believe difficult and creative activities can make them happiest in the long term, but that they engage more in passive and non-creative ones that have specific qualities they find difficult to face. In other words, people "know" they should pursue their passion or explore their hobby, but they sit down on the couch and watch TV instead, which is less intimidating.
In these surveys, it was not only effort that tended to be a common deterrent from activities bringing lasting rewards. How "daunting" an activity seemed to be was even more correlated with how unlikely someone was to do it. The researchers point to "transition costs" as a possible reason why people avoid rewarding tasks that they find daunting. If the physical steps one has to take are too sudden, overwhelming, or out of step with what one has been doing before, one will be less likely to take them. So, the researchers suggest preparing for transitions into fulfilling work and making them more gradual.
The reason to reduce these costs and change activities, too, is not just a vague sense of some activities being "better for you." Effortful and creative activities can bring about a specific and documented state known as "flow," a term coined by psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi. In a state of flow, one's abilities and the demands asked of them are perfectly matched, and one's sense of time falls away; the participant is engaged fully and energetically in the present moment.