Well, Dr. Matthew Killingsworth aimed to find out just that. He focused his research on what increases happiness levels. To find this out, he developed an app called Track Your Happiness. This app would ask questions like “How are you feeling?” and “Who are you with” to track the your mood and situation at the time. Dr Matthew Killingsworth used data from around 50,000 people to conclude that people are happiest when interacting with other people as opposed to alone.
A second surprising finding he presented in his research was that we are happier with interactions with friends than with our partner. I was stunned by this result, but the more I considered it, the more I realized why this could be the case. When you’ve been dating someone for two, four, ten years, you might spend a large amount of time with them – you might even live with them. Even though you love your partner, living with them might lead you to feeling annoyed at times: Why is this toilet seat up again? Do we really need six cushions on the bed? Can’t he put the plates inside the dishwasher? Sound familiar?
Whereas when you first start dating, you can spend a week apart doing all kinds of activities, when you’re living with someone, you see them when you first wake up and again when you go to sleep in the evening. The exciting moment when you reunite is not quite the same when you share the same bed. Don’t get me wrong; it can be the most blissful feeling in the world to wake up under the duvet next to that person you love every day. To know that they are there to share all those small daily moments with you. However, it can also mean that you’re more likely to find the small things frustrating.
Your partner might start to become part of the day-to-day and the routine, rather than this exciting and overwhelmingly nerve-wrecking moment when you first start dating. Not to say that this doesn’t happen after a couple of years of dating. If you have a fantastic evening out watching your favourite gig or you spend a whole evening cooking home-made ravioli and sharing a bottle of red wine, your level of happiness may peak during those times. However, most nights may be spent tired from a long day at the office or stressed from life admin that comes up. This frequency may not often allow for that burst of happiness that you might have had in the very beginning of a relationship.
Alternatively, if you look at your interactions with friends, it might be that you only see them once a week or once a month. If this is the case and you don’t see them on a daily basis, a catchup over dinner at a trendy restaurant downtown means you can’t wait to see them as it’s been ages and you have so much to gush about. You put on your hottest new top, put on that extra eyeliner and eye shadow, and rush out with your highest heels. You’re going out! You will treasure the moment you spend with them as you know you might not see them for another couple weeks. Again, this is not to say that we shouldn’t build and create this same level of intense excitement with our partner. It’s just to say that it’s potentially less likely to happen if they’re more of a constant in your life.
I would be interested to see more studies that explain why happiness levels are higher with friends than partners. It’s not surprising to me that interacting with people in general brings higher levels of happiness. Of course, we all like a night in alone with a huge bowl of M&M’s once in a while, but really spending time with people we can laugh with can be so valuable. Sometimes it takes that extra wee bit of effort to plan a date with friends, but really, after a couple of glasses of Pinot Grigio, it always feels worth the extra effort.