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Leave it to a pandemic to push so many of us into an emotional tailspin.
Quite possibly, many of us are spending more time with family than ever before… and much less time with friends due to social distancing and working from home.
How does that impact our happiness quota?
On one hand, staying home more is the best (at least I think so!). And staying home with the people you’re closest to and love the most would seem like nirvana. But the term “too much of a good thing” comes to mind because, on the other hand, I miss my girl’s nights out.
Scientists at Southern Methodist University set out to discover how we could all grab a little more joy in our lives — pandemic or not — and where, with whom or in what our happiness lies. What they found is pretty eye-opening…
The secret they found could put a smile on your face…
The study involved more than 400 participants who were asked to think back on times with either their friends or family. They then identified exactly which activities they shared and rated how they felt about the whole experience, such as whether it made them feel happy or satisfied or if it filled them with a sense of meaning.
Next, the researchers compiled all of the data to estimate each participant’s rate of happiness with their friends versus family and compare.
And the results? Well, this might be surprising to some… but not to others. That’s because the data showed that most of us may be happier getting together with our friends.
But what may be most surprising to all of us is that participants rated their experiences with friends even higher on the happiness scale than time with either their romantic partner or their children.
But before you get concerned, the reasons behind why we enjoy time with our friends more is something that could be transferred to a spouse and other family members… and I’ll bet you could guess what it is…
Positive experiences are key
According to the researchers, the difference in happiness levels they found actually had less to do with the who than the what.
In other words, perceived happiness actually comes down to the activity rather than the person it’s shared with. Put simply, people tend to be happier with their friends because that’s time doing something fun.
This makes sense to me considering that time with my own spouse and kids is so often taken up with cleaning the house, getting groceries, supervising homework, bathing the dog or any of the other hundred small tasks that have to be done to get through the week.
On the other hand, going out with my girlfriends means having dinner, relaxing, talking and lots of laughter — a fact that the research backed up. They found that 65 percent of experiences with friends involved socializing, compared to only 28 percent of the time shared with partners.
Making time with your family feel like time with your friends
Here’s the good news…
Overall, the participants in the study reported feeling similar levels of well-being while in the presence of friends, partners, and children once the activity was taken out of the equation.
The researchers say that the lesson here is that: “It’s important to create opportunities for positive experiences with romantic partners and children — and to really mentally savor those positive times. In contrast, family relationships that involve nothing but chores, housework, and childcare likely won’t predict a lot of happiness.”
So, if you want to grab a little more happiness in your everyday life, remember, it’s not about who you spend time with, but what you do. Whether you’re with your friends or your family, you can make the experience a joyful one by choosing fun activities whenever possible.
After all, the chores will always be there tomorrow!