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Scientific proof that the weekend is awesome

This professional skywriter isn't enjoying a weekend off.
This professional skywriter isn't enjoying a weekend off.
Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

Don't be too shocked, but it turns out that people are happier on weekends.

A paper by the University of British Columbia's John Helliwell and the KDI School of Public Policy and Management's Shun Wang, published in last April's issue of Social Indicators Research, looks at about 18 months' worth of Gallup polling data on emotions. The poll in question, conducted in partnership with Healthways, surveys about 1,000 people every day; the period covered in the paper includes responses from 527,324 people total.

It asks respondents, "Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday?" before asking about five feelings: happiness, enjoyment, anxiety, sadness, and anger. The poll also asks, "Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?" and has respondents rank their life on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being the "worst possible life for me" and 10 being the "best possible life for me."

They found statistically significant increases in positive emotions — happiness, enjoyment, laughter — and declines in negative ones — anxiety, sadness, and anger — on Saturdays and Sundays relative to the workweek. Same goes for Fridays, for every emotion but sadness and anger.

The effects aren't enormous. For example, about 86.8 percent of respondents reported feeling happy on Mondays, and, controlling for demographic factors (age, gender, education, etc.), the share reporting that for Saturdays and Sundays was 3.1 points and 3.2 points higher, respectively.

Effects were bigger for anxiety. 34.9 percent of respondents reported feeling anxious on Mondays, which fell by 7.4 points on both Saturdays and Sundays, after controls.

About half these effects, they estimate, can be explained by the fact that people on average got 1.7 hours more social time with friends and family on weekends: 7.1 hours per day as opposed to 5.4. Unsurprisingly, people with full-time jobs experienced bigger weekend effects than those working part-time or not at all.

But the effects shrink for people with better jobs. Weekend effects, Helliwell and Wang write, are "much smaller for those whose work supervisor is considered a partner rather than a boss and who report a trustable and open work environment." They report similar weekend emotions to people with worse working situations, but much better workweek emotions, translating to smaller weekend effects.

Intriguingly, they found no evidence for weekend effects on life evaluation — the question asking people to rate their life on a scale of 0-10. Happiness researchers usually draw a distinction between "happiness" (as measured by questions like Gallup's "did you feel happy yesterday") and "life satisfaction" (as measured by life evaluation questions). The former is more about one's moods, and the latter is a more thought-through judgment about whether one actually enjoys one's life, all told.

"We know that the same things that can make things happier on weekends or weekdays (having more social time, having workplace trust and having  partner-like boss) also improve life evaluations," Helliwell tells me. "What we find in these results are that, as we would hope, the life evaluations themselves do not fluctuate day by day, but instead reflect the social time and job conditions on an average basis." So even if weekend effects don't show up on life evaluation measures, weekends are probably still making you happier.