In 2002, two pioneers of Positive Psychology, Ed Diener and Martin Seligman, conducted a study at the University of Illinois on the 10% of students with the highest scores recorded on a survey of personal happiness. They found that the most salient characteristics shared by students who were very happy and showed the fewest signs of depression were “their strong ties to friends and family and commitment to spending time with them.” (“The New Science of Happiness,” Time Magazine, Claudia Wallis, Jan. 09, 2005).
In one study people were asked on random occasions about their mood. They were found to be happiest with their friends, followed by family members, and least happy if they were alone (Larson). Another study constructed a scale of cooperativeness, ie how willing people were to constructively engage in activities with others. This study showed that the cooperativeness of an individual was a predictor of their happiness, though it did not conclusively show if their cooperation resulted in happiness or the other way around (Lu). A study on the quality of relationships found that to avoid loneliness people needed only one close relationship coupled with a network of other relationships. To form a close relationship required a growing amount of “self-disclosure,” or a willingness to reveal ones personal issues and feelings, and without it people with friends would still be lonely (Weiss). A similar study found that some students who had many friends with whom they often spent time were still plagued by loneliness, and this seemed to be related to their tendency to talk about impersonal topics such as sports and pop music instead of their personal life (Weeler).
Larson, R.W. (1990). “The solitary side of life: An examination of the time people spend alone from childhood to old age.” Developmental Review, 10, 155-183.
Lu, L., & Argyle, M. (1992). “Happiness and cooperation.” Personality and Individual Differences, 12, 1019-1030.
Weiss, R.S. (1973). Loneliness: The Experience of Emotional and Social Isolation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Wheeler, L., Reis, H., & Nezlek, J. (1983). “Loneliness, social interaction and social roles.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45. 943-953. PubMed
Campbell, Angus., Converse, Phillip E., & Rodgers, Willard L. (1976). The Quality of American Life: Perceptions, Evaluations, and Satisfactions. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Wood, W., Rhodes, N., & Whelan, M. (1989). “Sex differences in positive well-being: A consideration of emotional style and marital status.” Psychological Bulletin, 106, 249-26.
Rodgers, W.L. and Bachman, J.G. (1988). The Subjective Well-Being of Young Adults: Trends and Relationships (Research Report Series/Institute for Social Research). University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.