In an early chapter of Genesis, Adam is told by God that being alone – the only human on earth – was improper and that he needed a companion. Yet today, those living alone are not always miserable. Some people deliberately choose to live alone and are happier that way, according to new research at Bar-Ilan University (BIU) in Ramat Gan (near Tel Aviv).
Modern days present individuals with ever-growing possibilities for managing their social lives. Developments in computing, communication, and transportation, introduce novel channels for social interactions, alongside increased opportunities for spending time alone productively
The current study, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies under the title “Choice matters more with others: Choosing to be with other people is more consequential to well-being than choosing to be alone, was led by Dr. Liad Uziel of the psychology department, with Dr. Tomer Schmidt-Barad, a postdoctoral researcher in his lab, now at the Peres Academic Center. The study found that the element of choice in our daily social interactions plays a key role in our well-being.
Stable social relationships are conducive to well-being. But the effects of daily social interactions or of time spent alone on the momentary feeling of happiness is not well understood. Instead, our sense of choice of being with others or of being alone is a central factor which shapes our feelings in these contexts, the team found.
Importantly, it was suggested that choice matters more “with others” than alone because experiences with others are more intense. Their work consisted of two studies – an experiment that manipulated social context and choice status, and a 10-day experience-sampling study that explored these variables in real-life settings.
The experience-sampling study involved 155 students. Each participant reported three times a day for 10 consecutive days on episodic social experiences. Participants were asked in each “sample” to report on their social status (alone/with other people), whether they were in this situation by choice or not by choice, and their feelings (positive or negative emotion, satisfaction, sense of meaning, and sense of control).
In total, more than 4,200 episodic reports were received. Of these, people were with others 60% of the time and alone 40% of the time. They were in these situations by their choice in 64% of the situations, and not by their choice in 36%. This indicates that the students spent about a third of their daytime in non-chosen social (or alone) situations.
Participants generally felt greater happiness in the company of others than in being alone, but there were great variations in the experience of being with others. The greatest degree of happiness was felt when in the company of others by choice, but the lowest degree of happiness when in the company of others not by choice. Effects of being alone on happiness also varied by choice status, but to a lesser extent.
In a previous study, Uziel found that social situations intensify emotions, while being alone was linked to calmer emotions and to a more relaxed overall experience. “The current research expands upon these conclusions by learning about people’s experiences in real life, outside the lab, and by addressing the choice element as an important moderating factor,” explains Uziel. “In both cases, social experiences are more intense, for better or worse.”
Uziel added that choice, or even a subjective sense of choice, is a crucial factor in influencing the sense of well-being. People will feel better if they are alone by choice than if they are with others not by choice. Yet being in the company of others by choice contributes most to improving sense of well-being at any given moment.
In any case, we are fortunate that God insisted that Adam get a helpmeet; if not, none of humanity would be here.