People feel happier being with friends than their spouses, but there’s a catch

New study shows that the overall time spent with a spouse or partner yields the lowest levels of happiness, compared to friends or other relatives.

DALLAS, Texas — Home may be where the heart is, but a new study finds spending time with family doesn’t always make us happy. Researchers say people tend to be happier when they’re with friends than they are with their romantic partner or children. Your family shouldn’t feel too insulted however, as a lot of it has to do with what you’re doing, not whom you’re doing it with.

Southern Methodist University professor Nathan Hudson finds people report higher levels of happiness while spending time with friends. The surprising results reveal being with a romantic partner actually creates the lowest levels of happiness.

What you’re doing together is the key to happiness

Hudson’s study cautions that this doesn’t mean spouses and children don’t make people happy. The biggest difference however, rests in the activities we’re sharing with others. The study reveals the majority of time people spend with friend involves fun, social events. On the other hand, much of the time we spend with family involves unpleasant activities such as chores.

“Our study suggests that this doesn’t have to do with the fundamental nature of kith versus kin relationships,” Prof. Hudson explains in a university release.

“When we statistically controlled for activities, the ‘mere presence’ of children, romantic partners, and friends predicted similar levels of happiness. Thus, this paper provides an optimistic view of family and suggests that people genuinely enjoy their romantic partners and children.”

How are people spending their time with family and friends?

Researchers surveyed over 400 participants, asking them about their times with those closest to them. On a scale of 0 to 6 (six meaning “almost always”) the group listed how happy and satisfied they are during various activities shared with friends, romantic partners, and children.

The results show people most often spend time with their partners socializing, relaxing, and eating. While the participants do these same things with friends, 65 percent of this time focuses on socializing. Just 28 percent of the time people spend with a spouse or lover is spent socializing.

The authors say that much of the time people spend with their children doesn’t generate much happiness either. Many of these shared tasks include housework and commuting. Despite these unhappy moments, people generally view childcare duties in a positive light.

Overall, the presence of friends, partners, or children makes people report higher levels of well-being — regardless of what they’re doing together. Hudson notes the study points to the importance of carving out the time to have fun with our families, and not just our friends.

“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.”

The study appears in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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