Choosing to be with others is more important for well-being than choosing to be alone
Newswise — Do we value our time more when we are alone or when we are with others? A new study by researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Israel has found that the element of choice in our daily social interactions plays a key role in our well-being.
Stable social relationships are conducive to well-being. But the effects of everyday social interactions (or time spent alone) on momentary feelings of happiness are not well understood. This study, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, suggests that our sense of choice to be with others (or to be alone) is a central factor that shapes our feelings in these contexts. Importantly, it has been suggested that choice matters more “with others” than alone, because experiences with others are more intense.
The research, led by Dr. Liad Uziel, of Bar-Ilan University’s Department of Psychology, with Dr. Tomer Schmidt-Barad, a postdoc in his lab now at the Peres University Center, consisted of two studies: an experiment that manipulated the social context and choice status, and a ten-day experience sampling study, which explored these variables in real-life contexts.
The experience sampling study involved 155 students. Each participant reported episodic social experiences three times a day for ten consecutive days. Participants were asked in each “sample” to report their social status (alone/with other people), whether they were in this situation by choice or not, and their feelings (positive or negative emotion, satisfaction, sense of meaning, and sense of control). In total, more than 4,200 episodic reports were received. Of these, people were with others 60% of the time and alone 40% of the time. They were in these situations by their choice in 64% of the situations, and not by their choice in 36%. This indicates that students spent about a third of their day in unchosen social (or alone) situations.
Participants felt greater satisfaction (happiness) in the company of others than when alone. However, there were wide variations in the experience of being with others. The highest degree of happiness was felt in the company of others by choice, but the lowest degree of happiness in the company of others not by choice. The effects of being alone on happiness also varied by choice status, but to a lesser extent.
In a previous study, Dr. Uziel found that social situations heighten emotions, while being alone was linked to calmer emotions and a more relaxed overall experience. “Current research expands on these findings by learning from people’s experiences in real life, outside of the lab, and addressing the element of choice as an important moderating factor,” says Dr. Uziel. “In both cases, the social experiences are more intense, for better or for worse.”
Dr. Uziel says choice, or even a subjective sense of choice, is a crucial factor in influencing feelings of well-being. People will feel better if they are alone by choice than if they are with others not by choice. Yet being in the company of others by choice does the most to improve feelings of well-being at any given time.