Friends Are Fun!

Not only does social connection matter for long-term life satisfaction. As Derek Bok points out, it also brings the most immediate pleasure. Researchers have found that the following activities, ranked on a scale from 1 to 5, are among the most productive of positive emotions when subjects are asked how happy they feel throughout the day: intimate relations (4.74), socializing after work (4.12), dinner (3.96), relaxing (3.91), and socializing at work (3.75).

By contrast, the least enjoyable activities include the evening commute (2.78), working (2.65), and that mother of all downers, the morning commute (2.04). For most people, these are solitary activities.16

Research on well-being finds that people are often poor judges of what will make them happy. In the United States, we are often encouraged to seek material wealth; President Ronald Reagan once said that he hoped America would always remain a country where everyone had the opportunity to “get rich.” Compared with the 1970s, a far higher percentage of college students now rank “making a lot of money” above “contributing to society” on their lists of what they hoped to gain from a degree. Yet the psychologist Tim Kasser found that people whose key motivation is material wealth wind up less happy than those whose goal is service.

“You can be rich and happy, especially if your original motivation was to make a positive difference in the world,” Kasser says. “But you are far more likely to live an unsatisfied life if you go for the money first, if your primary motivation is to get rich.”17 If wealth is your goal, you are less likely to develop strong social bonds; and if you succeed in becoming wealthy, you may always sense that others are befriending you only to gain a share of your cash.

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