The key to happiness: Friends or family? The answer might surprise you

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Think spending time with your kids and spouse is the key to your happiness? You may actually be happier about getting together with your friends, according to a new study.

In the study, researchers found that people report higher levels of well-being while hanging with their friends than they do with their romantic partner or children.

In fact, being around romantic partners predicted the least amount of happiness among these three groups.

However, the finding has more to do with the activity than the person it is shared with.

That’s because people tend to spend more of their time doing enjoyable activities with friends than they do with family members, who occasionally find themselves together doing unpleasant tasks like chores or caretaking duties.

The research was conducted by a team at Southern Methodist University and elsewhere.

In the study, more than 400 people were asked to think back on times with their friends or family—identify the activity they shared—and rate whether those experiences left them feeling various emotions, such as happy, satisfied, and with a sense of meaning.

The team found the activities people most frequently perform while they’re with their romantic partners include socializing, relaxing, and eating.

People tend to do similar activities when they are with their friends, too.

They just do a lot more of these enjoyable tasks while hanging with their friends and a lot less housework.

For instance, 65% of experiences with friends involved socializing, but only 28% of the time shared with partners.

Spending time with their children also meant more time doing things that had a negative association, such as housework and commuting.

However, the activity that people reported most often with their offspring—childcare—was viewed positively.

And overall, people report 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 findings show 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.

One author of the study is SMU psychology professor Nathan Hudson.

The study is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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