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Practice may not make perfect, but it could bring increased happiness later

October 30, 2009 | 11:01 am

Music Frustrating though trying and trying again may be at the time, such practice appears to pay off psychologically down the road.

In a study assessing various factors affecting   overall well-being and hourly well-being, researchers at San Francisco State University and elsewhere asked several hundred people to provide accounts of their behavior, their feelings of enjoyment and stress, and the overall satisfaction of their psychological needs on two separate days.

They found that behaviors designed to enhance  feelings of autonomy (doing what one wants rather than what one is told) and relatedness (a sense of connection to others) made people feel good at the time. Behaviors designed to enhance competence didn't. Such activities are stressful, as it turns out, and they tend to make people feel less than satisfied at the time.

At the same time, feelings of competence -- as with autonomy and relatedness -- were linked to overall satisfaction, or happiness with life.

The researchers write in their conclusion: "The momentary stress and lack of enjoyment may explain why individuals do not always pursue those competence-promoting behaviors that will ultimately maximize well-being. Therefore, because optimal well-being cannot be attained if fulfillment of one's psychological need is pursued at the expense of another need, optimal well-being likely cannot be attained by only selecting enjoyable and stress-free behaviors."

In other words: Practice anyway. (And yes, dear, that means you -- and yes, I'm talking about the flute.) It's good for you.

The study was published online this week in the Journal of Happiness Studies. Here's the abstract and the more complete, and reader-friendly, news release. The fact that there is such a journal boosts my happiness just a bit. So does flute practice.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Acquiring competency is stressful, which decreases happiness. But practice builds competency, which increases happiness. Got it? Here, Hamilton High School students rehearse "The Magic Flute." Credit: Los Angeles Times