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What really makes us happy? How spending time with your friends is better for you than being with family

// Headline
  • Researchers recorded people's moods using an app called Mappiness
  • Spending time with family makes you less happy then being with friends
  • Having sex raised moods by an average of 14 per cent
  • Being sick made people most depressed, reducing mood by 20.4 per cent

By Paul Bentley

PUBLISHED: 08:29 EST, 30 June 2013 | UPDATED: 08:31 EST, 30 June 2013

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There can be no greater joy than having a baby.

From that momentous day on, however, it appears the happiness quickly fades.

Scientists researching moods have confirmed every parent’s darkest secret – spending time with your family makes you far less happy than being with friends.

Spending time with your family makes you far less happy than being with friends according to new research

Spending time with your family makes you far less happy than being with friends according to new research

In fact, being with almost anyone other than one’s offspring is better for mood, researchers found, with the only company more depressing than children being work colleagues and clients.

The results have been reported by researchers from the London School of Economics, who collated data from tens of thousands of smartphone users, who used an app to log their levels of happiness over a three year period.

On average, respondents’ moods improved by more than 8 per cent when they were with friends, but this fell to 5.9 per cent when they were with their partners.

The activity which makes us happiest is sex, which raised moods by an average of 14 per cent

The activity which makes us happiest is sex, which raised moods by an average of 14 per cent

Worryingly, happiness rose by just 1.4 per cent when with children – far less than when walking, going to the library and drinking alcohol.

The minimal joy felt when with children was only slightly higher than a 0.7 per cent improvement in mood when with clients or customers at work.

The results stunned those who took part, who were not aware of how much less happy they felt when at home.

Rachael Gaunt, 49, an architect from St Ives in Cornwall, said: ‘The results were not as I expected, as they suggested I was happiest when alone and outdoors, which does not typically represent the life of a full-time working architect, mother of two young boys and generally busy person.’

The study attempted to record how happy people genuinely feel in specific moments, rather than how they view how happy they were in retrospect, which can be distorted.

Researchers did this by using an app titled Mappiness, which was developed by academic George MacKerron in conjunction with the LSE. About 50,000 people have signed up to use it since 2010.

After downloading the app, users received randomly generated ‘dings’ on their phones, which would ask them how happy and relaxed they were feeling at that moment, what they were doing and who they were with.

Only responses received within an hour were included in the data.

Analysis of the replies, of which there are now 3million, shows people are far happier when with their friends than with family.

The activity which makes us happiest is sex, which raised moods by an average of 14 per cent.

Researchers, moreover, believe this to be an understatement because people are unlikely to reach for their phones during the act.

Other activities which rated highly were going to the theatre or a concert, visiting anexhibition, museum or library, sports and gardening.

People who work in an office were twice as unhappy as those who work from home

People who work in an office were twice as unhappy as those who work from home

At the other end of the spectrum, being sick in bed made us most depressed, reducing mood by 20.4 per cent.

WHO MAKES US HAPPY

Friends  8.2%
Spouse/partner  5.9%
Other family  2.9%
Children  1.4%
Clients/customers  0.7%
Colleagues/classmates 0.6%

*Percentage improvement in mood, compared to being alone

Working or studying is also a downer, lowering levels of happiness by 5.4 per cent relative to other activities.

People who work in an office were twice as unhappy as those who work from home and men were found to be less happy at work than women.

Those who are least happy at work are those in long-term relationships, but those with childre were not quite so upset to be away from home and in the office.

Working conditions, of course, vary widely and this was reflected in levels of wellbeing.

People who earned less than £12,000 a year were far happier when at work than those with higher wages.

Shifters who work before 6am, after 6pm or at the weekend were twice as unhappy as those who have more stable hours during the day.

Being sick in bed made us most depressed, reducing mood by 20.4 per cent

Being sick in bed made us most depressed, reducing mood by 20.4 per cent

Alex Bryson, who conducted the research, told the Sunday Times: ‘Even though people are positive about paid work when reflecting on the meaning and value of their lives, actually engaging in paid work comes at some personal cost in terms of the pressures and stress they face.

‘Wellbeing at work varies significantly with your circumstances and these can be influenced by public policies to facilitate “happier” working conditions.’

Another study by the World Happiness Database in Rotterdam suggests it is possible to make ourselves feel happier.

Though it is generally assumed that you need goals to lead a happy life, evidence is mixed.

WHAT MAKES US HAPPY

1 Intimacy/ making love  14.2%

2 Theatre/ dance/ concert  9.3%

3 Exhibition/ museum/ library  8.8%

4 Sports/ exercise  8.1%

5 Gardening/ allotment  7.8%

6 Singing/ performing  6.9%

7 Talking/ chatting/ socialising  6.4%

8 Nature watching  6.3%

9 Walking/ hiking  6.2%

10 Hunting/ fishing  5.8%

11 Drinking alcohol  5.7%

12 Hobbies/ arts and crafts  5.5%

13 Meditating/ religious activities  4.9%

14 Sports event  4.4%

15 Childcare/ playing with children  4.1%

WHAT MAKES US LEAST HAPPY

1 Reading  1.5%

2 Listening to a speech  1.4%

3 Washing/ dressing/ grooming  1.2%

4 Sleeping/ resting/ relaxing  1.1%

5 Smoking  0.7%

6 Browsing the net  0.6%

7 Texting/ email/ social media  0.6%

8 Housework/ DIY  -0.7%

9 Travelling/ commuting  -1.5%

10 In a meeting/ seminar/ class  -1.5%

11 Admin/ finances/ organising  -2.5%

12 Waiting/ queuing  -3.5

13 Care or help for adults -4.3

14 Work/ studying  -5.4

15 Sick in bed  -20.4 

'The reason seems to be that unhappy people are more aware of their goals, because they seek to change their life for the better,' explained Professor Ruut Veenhoven, Director of the Database and Emeritus professor of social conditions for human happiness at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam.

Leading an active life is believed to be the key to happiness.

'In order to have a happy life, a rewarding life you need to be active. So involvement is more important to happiness than meaning in the sense of why, why we are here.

'Research has shown that we can make ourselves happier because happiness changes over time.

These changes are not just a matter of better circumstances but of better dealing with life. Elderly people tend to be wiser and for that reason, happier.'

Studies collated by the database say you tend to be happier if you are in a long-term relationship, are actively engaged in politics, are active in work and in your free time, go out for dinner and have close friendships although happiness does not increase with the number of friends you have.

A German study (by Frey and Stutzer published in 2004) found a strong link between time spent commuting and satisfaction with life.

Those who spent an hour on their journey to work were found to be significantly less happy that those who did not commute.


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