Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 41, Issue 5, pp 545–561 | Cite as

You can do it if you really try: The effects of motivation on thinking for pleasure

  • Sarah Alahmadi
  • Nicholas R. Buttrick
  • Daniel T. Gilbert
  • Amber M. Hardin
  • Erin C. Westgate
  • Timothy D. WilsonEmail author
Original Paper


People find it difficult to enjoy their own thoughts when asked to do so, but what happens when they are asked to think about whatever they want? Do they find thinking more or less enjoyable? In the present studies, we show that people are more successful in enjoying their thoughts when instructed to do so. We present evidence in support of four reasons why this is: without instructions people do not realize how enjoyable it will be to think for pleasure, they do not realize how personally meaningful it will be to do so, they believe that thinking for pleasure will be effortful, and they believe it would be more worthwhile to engage in planning than to try to enjoy their thoughts. We discuss the practical implications of thinking for pleasure for promoting alternatives to the use of technology.


Motivation Emotion regulation Enjoyment of thought Conscious thought Affective forecasting 



The research reported here was supported by National Science Foundation Grant BCS-1423747. We thank Doug Tannen and Jeramy Spitzer for assistance with Study 2.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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