New social activities, such as a weekly card game with family or taking more time to help an elderly neighbor, may lead to greater life satisfaction by next year, compared to solitary activities, according to a new German study.
“Our research showed that people who came up with ‘well-being’ strategies that involved other people were more satisfied with their lives one year later even after taking into account that they were marginally happier to begin with,” said psychological scientist Julia Rohrer of the University of Leipzig, and lead author on the study.
“In contrast, people who came up with strategies that did not explicitly involve others remained, on average, as satisfied as they were.”
The findings are published in the journal Psychological Science.
The researchers looked at data from a subsample of the German Socio-Economic Panel Study, a nationally representative survey of German adults. In 2014, the participants reported how satisfied they were with life, providing a rating from 0 (completely dissatisfied) to 10 (completely satisfied).
They also reported how satisfied they imagined they would be in 5 years and came up with strategies to ensure sustained life satisfaction in the future. One year later, the participants again rated their current level of life satisfaction.
Of the 1,178 participants, 596 made a general statement (e.g., “there is not much I could change”) or expressed an idea that did not entail individual action (e.g., “different politics would improve life”), whereas 582 reported a specific strategy. These two groups showed no substantive differences in life satisfaction over time.
Then the researchers further analyzed the data from the 582 participants who actually described specific strategies. Of these, 184 mentioned approaches centered on some form of social engagement (e.g., “helping others,” “spend more time with family,” “spend more time with friends”), while 398 described some form of nonsocial strategy (e.g., “stop smoking”).
The findings reveal that individuals who described a social strategy had increased life satisfaction one year later, whereas those who reported nonsocial strategies showed relatively similar levels to the year before.
Data showing how much time the respondents spent on various activities revealed that time spent socializing with family, friends, and neighbors helped explain the increased life satisfaction one year later.
Rohrer said that further research, including experimental studies and longitudinal studies with multiple follow-up assessments, will help shed light on why social strategies seem to improve life satisfaction and nonsocial strategies do not.
The findings do suggest that spending more time with others may be the more promising avenue toward increased well-being, the researchers conclude.
“Many people are interested in becoming happier, but there is a lack of evidence regarding the long-term effects of pursuing happiness through various types of activities. After all, there’s no guarantee that trying to become happier doesn’t make you more miserable in the end,” Rohrer said.