Entity explains the science behind 'work hard play hard'

You’ve heard it said hundreds of times – in fact, Wiz Khalifa even wrote a song about it: “Work hard, play hard.”  You probably don’t know, however, how true this motto is – according to science.

After all, kicking corporate butt with 60-hour work weeks paired with extravagant vacations and drinks with coworkers every night may sound like a great life plan. However, showing up to the office hung over for the fourth time in one week isn’t going to get you promoted.

Living our best life has some how turned into weekend long parties after weeks full of 12 hour days. Where is the balance? Is this mantra the best we can do to find it? Have we found a way to endorse the best possible lives for ourselves in a culture so focused on success and career, or are we simply promoting more excess and more indulgence to satiate our desire for lives that mean more?


In an age so focused on #livingourbestlife, how does one balance the demands of a strenuous work schedule and a booming social life? Can we really have it all? Does work hard, play hard actually work? ENTITY is here with all the research, inspirational quotes and stats to prove that, when you do it right, working hard and playing hard really is the key to success.

The Ugly

We’ll start out with the ugly side of living by the “working and playing hard” mantra. When you take this mantra too far, you’ll end up feeling more fatigued than accomplished and fun. In fact, a study  examining the health of Danish manufacturing workers between 1996 and 2006 found:

  • Women at companies with an economic boom were more likely to later seek treatment for severe depression and take medication to help prevent heart attacks and strokes
  • The number of work injuries increased in men and women
  • Employees in companies with the top 25 percent biggest booms took 14 percent more sick days (the men) and 25 percent more sick days (the women)

In America, employees are just as likely to make work their lives 24/7 – and experience just as negative of consequences. Several surveys have shown that, even when on vacation or off the clock, Americans feel obliged to check and respond to work emails or make progress on work projects.

The truth is, though, that people need downtime to survive – and if their downtime is just as demanding as their work, that’s a recipe for major burnout. Research has revealed that the brain often problem solves while a person daydreams. Other studies suggest that the brain even “reboots” itself during downtime, improving a person’s memory and learning abilities.

READ MORE: 5 Ways the Human Brain Still Beats Computers

All of this is to say that working and playing hard 24/7 isn’t the key to success we often grow up hearing about. However, that’s not the full story.

The Good

“Work hard, play hard” couldn’t have become the cliche it is today without people constantly saying, doing and supporting it. So what is so great about this mantra – and can this perspective really help people succeed in life when used in moderation?

Recently, Queen’s University biology professor Lonnie Aarssen decided to see whether this mantra had any biological roots. First, he discovered that people usually fit into one of two groups: the first are interested in religion and parenthood but care less about success or downtime; the second – classified “go-getters” – showed a strong interest in both achievements and relaxation. Basically, this means that if you’re the kind of person who always wants to go-go-go, you aren’t alone. In fact, you have your genes to partly thank.

Entity reports on the science behind the cliche, "Work hard, play hard"

Graph from Aarssen & Crimi / The Open Psychology Journal

Even more importantly, however, Aarssen came up with a possible reason for why people feel inclined to “work hard, play hard.” According to Aarssen, humans experience a “legacy drive” – in which they want to leave their mark on the world – and a “leisure drive.” Both of these drives can help people cope with their own mortality by leaving behind something when we die and being distracted from our own “impermanence.” Because humans were able to ignore their impending death – and not fall victim to what Aarssen calls “self-impermanence anxiety” – they were able to reproduce and further humanity.

READ MORE: Billie Lourd Shows Us How to Take a Mental Health Break

So, in a nutshell, we may have the old motto of “work hard, play hard” to thank for the existence of the human race. Little did you know cliches could be so important in evolution!

Working and playing hard also seems to aid people’s individual success. Studies have found that when people are able to have fun while they work, employees feel more committed to and satisfied with their jobs. And you just have to glance at some of the quotes from inspirational women to see how hard work (and play) is tied to personal success:

  • “You can’t just sit there and wait for people to give you that golden dream. You’ve got to get out there and make it happen for yourself.” – Diana Ross
  • “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.” – Helen Keller
  • “Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will be delightful, old age will bring few regrets, and life will become a beautiful success.” – Louisa May Alcott
  • “I didn’t get there by wishing for it or hoping for it, but by working for it.” – Estee Lauder
  • “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.” – Maya Angelou
  • “I dream it. I work hard. I grind til I own it.” – Beyonce, Formation


The advice to “work hard, play hard” may not be anything new. However, the research and these inspirational women prove that this mantra can still help people slay their workday – and their time off.

READ MORE: How 7 Inspirational Women Define Success

The Bottom Line

If you want to make “work hard, play hard” the secret weapon to your success in life, the key is moderation. True, if you always decide to go-go-go and never give yourself an actual break, the quality of your overall work and life may suffer.

However, science also suggests that some people are just wired to kick ass 24/7 – whether they’re in the office or taking an epic, action-packed vacation. Not only that, but several inspirational women – ranging from authors in the 19th century to pop stars we know and love today – seem to point to hard work and play as the key to dominating life.

“Work hard, play hard” was good enough motivation for our ancestors to survive, so maybe it’s just the motivation today’s women need to slay work and thrive.

What do you think? Does work hard play hard work? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @entitymag to join the conversation!

Edited by Hillary Litherland

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