Given a choice between an outing with good friends or an evening with strangers, most people would choose their friends. But according to a new study, we might have a better time—and go home in a better mood—if we chose to make new acquaintances. Tayyab Rashid, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, randomly assigned college students to bowl by themselves, with close friends or with complete strangers. He was inspired by the 2000 best-selling book Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam, the Harvard researcher who argued that the disintegration of close-knit American communities causes low levels of personal happiness—even in the face of economic prosperity. He singled out bowling, which, though more popular than ever, has morphed from a team sport to solitary pursuit.
To Rashid's surprise, he found participants who bowled with strangers were happier than students who hand-picked buddies to accompany them (and, as expected, people who bowled by themselves). For those who made new friends, the experience was similar to a successful date. Says Rashid, "They were euphoric." Although college students tend to be an outgoing bunch, Rashid says one's level of extroversion didn't predict who would see the greatest uptick in mood. The study was presented at the annual Positive Psychology Summit.