Does Being More Social Make Us Happier?
Talking to friends, family, or even your Uber driver may be worth the effort.
Posted December 31, 2019 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
Humans are social creatures and therefore it seems intuitive that talking to other people should increase our feelings of happiness and social connectedness. Many studies show the negative effects of loneliness on health and happiness. Previous studies have also found that we are happier when interacting socially, but most of these studies have used only self-reported measures.
A recent study expanded this research using audio recordings of actual social interactions as well as self-reports. The study also looked at whether the quality of social interactions made a difference. Are deeper conversations more satisfying than superficial ones and are we happier when interacting with people that we like more? Finally, the study also looked at whether the effects of social interaction on wellbeing were higher for extraverts than introverts.
Studying social interaction in real-time
The researchers in this study recruited 256 participants, and they assessed the quantity of social interactions using an unobtrusive electronically activated voice recorder (EAR) as well as self-reports of social interaction, happiness, and social connectedness that were assessed four times each day for one week. Observers listened to the audio recordings and separately rated the quality and quantity of social interactions. Quality of social interactions was assessed on four dimensions: conversational depth, extent of self-disclosure, and how well the participant knew and liked their conversational partner.
Previous research has shown that people feel happier when interacting with others and that happy people interact more with others. Similar results were found in the current study: People who had more social interactions were happier on average than those who interacted less. People also felt happier and more socially connected when they spoke to others in the past hour, compared to when they did not. The amount of social interaction during the hour also made a difference. The more time people spent interacting socially during the hour, the happier they felt. In other words, someone who spoke to others for 40 minutes was happier during the hour than someone who spoke for only 10 minutes during that 60-minute period.
Does conversation quality and who you talk to make a difference?
As predicted, the quality of interactions also made a difference. People reported feeling happier and more socially connected when they had more in-depth conversations and disclosed more. People also felt happier when interacting with people whom they knew better and liked more. Feeling close to the person you are talking to and having enough trust to reveal your thoughts and feelings with more depth seems to create a more authentic and gratifying social experience.
With regard to introversion versus extraversion, this didn’t seem to make much of a difference. Both introverts and extraverts were happier when they interacted socially than when they did not. But introverts seemed to be especially happy when they were having more in-depth conversations. This finding fits with my own experiences. The introverts I know (including myself) tend to seek out the person they can have a meaningful conversation with at a social gathering. Too much small talk can drain our energy whereas interesting conversations with people we know and like can energize us.
In summary, this study used a very clever methodology of actually recording people’s conversations (or lack thereof) four times a day for one week (28 hours in all) and using raters to have maximally accurate data about social interaction. They also did two types of analyses: within-person (comparing people’s happiness during times they interacted socially compared to times they did not) and between-person (comparing the happiness of those people who had more social interactions to those who had fewer). Using these methods, they produced robust findings that we are happier when being social, interacting with people we know and like, and having more in-depth conversations in which we disclose more.
How to increase social interaction in your daily life
Make an effort to talk to people you encounter throughout the day, like your Starbucks barista, your babysitter, Uber driver, or the person who cleans your office. In one study, having a brief but genuine conversation with a barista made people happier than just getting their drink and moving on as quickly as possible.
Put down your cellphone at dinner or when you get home from work and make an effort to speak to your roommates, partner, or children. Try to make the conversations more substantial by asking your loved ones or friends about things they care about and actually listening to their answers. Create a “greeting ritual” with your partner that may involve a hug and check-in when you walk in the door.
When you are tempted to spend the weekend binge-watching Netflix, make an effort to call up some friends and get together for a walk or coffee. Netflix will still be there when you get home and this will help you have a more meaningful day.
Volunteer in your neighborhood, your children’s school, or get connected to a non-profit that helps a cause you care about. Join a church, synagogue, or another spiritual group if this fits with your beliefs.
Sun, J., Harris, K., & Vazire, S. (2019). Is well-being associated with the quantity and quality of social interactions? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000272.