Throughout the ages, philosophers have pondered the best ways to achieve the most happiness in life. Some say freedom to do what you please, others say knowledge and exercising one’s conscious reasoning.
Those are great ideas and all, but the answer seems to be much simpler than that: being social. Like most other animals, humans are social creatures and by interacting with friends, one is able to enhance their overall happiness.
According to Tom Rath and Jim Harter, two researchers at Gallup and coauthors of “Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements,” a person needs about six hours of socializing for a fulfilled day. Whether you’re extroverted or introverted, the amount of time needed to have a good and happy day is the same.
Of course, there are several ways to socialize between the workplace and social media; however, Rath and Harter found out that “in-person” interaction with non-work related friends is the happiest and most fulfilling way to socialize.
“Planned events of any sort tend to improve mood more than simple verbal exchanges…because planned events give participants a pleasurable sense of anticipation.”
Harter goes on to say that engaging in activities like “exercising together, having dinner together” is even more important that time just spent together.
Another surprising finding was that Millennials—who spend more time on technology and social media—actually spend more face-to-face time than all the other age groups.
So how does socializing help make life meaningful? Well there are three root benefits that affect us every day.
Identity: By socializing with others, we are able to develop the concept of “self.” This is a concept coined by Charles Horton Cooley called the “looking-glass self” concept. We are able to form opinions about ourselves through the perception of others. To truly know yourself is an important key to a happy and fulfilling life, and by socializing with friends, you are able to discover those little things that make you, you.
Memories: Socializing with friends are also memories in the making. Memories allow us to look back on fun moments in the past while creating an optimistic outlook on the future.
Dr. Constantine Sedikides, a professor of social and personality psychology from the University of Southampton, says these memories are what hold us together in times of trouble.
“Nostalgia made me feel that my life had roots and continuity. It made me feel good about myself and my relationships. It provided a texture to my life and gave me strength to move forward.”
Although nostalgia comes with a sense of sadness and yearning to return to a place in the past, it helps us focus on the happiness we’ve experienced in the past and the desire to carry on with our meaningful life and friends.
“I don’t miss an opportunity to build nostalgic-to-be memories,” Sedikides says. “We call this anticipatory nostalgia…”
Experience: We experience life when we socialize. We meet new friends, we try new things, and we discover new places. A hard question to ask when you’re older is, “Did I make every moment count?” Each one of us wants to look back on our lives and see a life well-lived. Without the need to socialize, we wouldn’t have the stories to share with others.
"Just create opportunities. They don't have to be costly, and not everybody's going to like every opportunity that's presented," Harter says. "But if you make opportunities to socialize, people will."
So as you can see, socializing is extremely important. Reach out to your friends. Make those plans. Share those memories. And maximize your happiness.