Happiness, Well-Being, and Other People

Spending time with other people can make you happy.

Posted Dec 22, 2020

Nevit Dilmen Creative Commons 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Source: Nevit Dilmen Creative Commons 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Humans are a social species, so it would make sense that being around other people generally makes us feel better than being alone. What kinds of people make us feel happy?

As it turns out, it depends on how you define happiness. This idea was explored in a paper by Nathan Hudson, Richard Lucas, and Brent Donnellan in the September 2020 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

These researchers surveyed adults and asked them to complete up to three questionnaires. In each questionnaire, participants were asked to look back over the previous day and to select both activities they engaged in (including diverse events like commuting, childcare, socializing)  and what people they engaged in the activity with (friends, romantic partner, children, clients, coworkers, boss). They also gave ratings for the positive and negative emotions they experienced during those episodes. In addition, they rated their overall emotional state as well as their global sense of life satisfaction.

Spending time with friends, romantic partners, and children generally increased experienced happiness compared to spending time alone. Time spent with friends was most enjoyable, but this was best explained because spending time with friends involved more enjoyable activities (like eating and socializing), while time spent with romantic partners and children also involved some less enjoyable activities (like cleaning or child care). Time spent with colleagues, clients, and bosses was less enjoyable than social time, but did create a sense of meaning to interactions.

After accounting for the activities people engaged in, there was actually a tendency for time spent with their children to lead to the most happiness in the moment. It is not clear whether that is because there is something about being with children that leads to happiness or whether the researchers didn’t have options for people to select the activities that made time with children enjoyable.

Interestingly, the results for global well-being were different. Time spent with a romantic partner increased the overall sense of happiness and life satisfaction more than time spent with any other people.

It is interesting that the factors that increase overall life satisfaction go beyond just those factors that make people happy in the moment. There is something about having a successful romantic relationship that creates a sense of a life well-lived that is more than just having enjoyable experiences or good friends. It goes beyond even having children and spending time with them.

The authors of this paper point out that the data they collected do not explain why spending time with a romantic partner increases life satisfaction. Future research will have to examine this question more carefully.

References

Hudson, N.W., Lucas, R.E., & Donnellan, B. (2020). Are we happier with others? An investigation of the links between spending time with others and well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 119(3), 672-694.