If learning a new skill is stressful for you, don't despair. According to a new study, people who work hard at improving their competence at something may feel stressed in the moment, but experience greater happiness on a daily basis and longer term.
The study examined whether people feel happier when they fulfill certain psychological needs, specifically, the need to be competent, to feel connected to others, and to be autonomous or self-directed. ScienceDaily reports in the article "No Pain, No Gain: Mastering A Skill Makes Us Stressed In The Moment, Happy Long Term":
Contrary to previous research, the study found that people who engage in behaviors that increase competency, for example at work, school or the gym, experience decreased happiness in the moment, lower levels of enjoyment and higher levels of momentary stress. Despite the negative effects felt on an hourly basis, participants reported that these same activities made them feel happy and satisfied when they looked back on their day as a whole. This surprising find suggests that in the process of becoming proficient at something, individuals may need to endure temporary stress to reap the happiness benefits associated with increased competency.
While behaviors that increase competency were associated with decreased happiness in the moment, people who spent time on activities that met the need for autonomy or feeling connected to others experienced increased happiness both [on] an hourly and daily basis. The greatest increase in momentary happiness was experienced by participants who engaged in something that met their need for autonomy -- any behavior that a person feels they have chosen, rather than ought to do, and that helps them further their interests and goals.
According to Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, these findings may have implications for workplace stress management:
Our results suggest that you can decrease the momentary stress associated with improving your skill or ability by ensuring you are also meeting the need for autonomy and connectedness, for example performing the activity alongside other people or making sure it is something you have chosen to do and is true to who you are.