With a Little Help for Our Thoughts: Making It Easier to Think for Pleasure

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Abstract

Can people enjoy thinking if they set their mind to it? Previous work suggests that many people do not enjoy the deliberate attempt to have pleasurable thoughts. We suggest that deliberately thinking for pleasure requires mental resources that people are either unwilling or unable to devote to the task. If so, then people should enjoy pleasant thoughts that occur unintentionally more than pleasant thoughts that occur intentionally. This hypothesis was confirmed in an experience sampling study (Study 1) in which participants were contacted 4 times a day for 7 days and asked to rate what they had been thinking about. In Studies 2–5 we experimentally manipulated how easy it was for people to engage in pleasurable thought when given the goal of doing so. All participants listed topics they would enjoy thinking about; then some were given a simple “thinking aid” that was designed to make this experience easier. Participants who received the aid found the experience easier and enjoyed it more. The findings suggest that thinking for pleasure is cognitively demanding, but that a simple thinking aid makes it easier and more enjoyable.

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