Quality and Quantity of Social Interactions Both Matter for Happiness

It seems obvious that having fulfilling social interactions with other people makes a difference in how happy we are. Less obvious is what makes for fulfilling social interactions, and how that varies from one person to the next.

When psychologists study people’s social interactions and relationships, there’s always a question of whether quantity or quality is more important. For example, last year I wrote about research suggesting the type of loneliness that comes from lacking emotionally fulfilling relationships might be more damaging to mental health than the type of loneliness that comes from having fewer social interactions in a quantitative sense.

Recently, a team of researchers picked up on this thread, publishing the results of a new study in a paper that poses the question: Is Well-Being Associated With the Quantity and Quality of Social Interactions?

As the title of the paper indicates, the researchers collected information about the quantity and quality of people’s social interactions and compared it against people’s levels of well-being, including feelings of social connectedness and happiness.

The results suggested that both quantity and quality of social interactions were linked to well-being. On the quantitative side of things, people who had more social interactions in the week of the study reported higher levels of well-being, both when they were having those social interactions and generally.

In terms of the quality of social interactions, the researchers found that when people perceived their conversations as having more depth and involving more self-disclosure, their well-being similarly benefited. Likewise when they reported having conversations with people they knew and liked.

That said, the qualitative findings were a little more nuanced. Specifically, quality of social interactions seemed to make more of a difference in predicting changes in one person’s well-being from one moment to the next rather than differences between people, and in predicting feelings of social connectedness rather than happiness.

Overall, the researchers didn’t find many differences between introverts and extraverts. However, some of the results did raise the possibility that conversations with greater depth are more important for introverts’ sense of social connectedness.

No doubt these variables will change from one individual to the next. And as with many psychology studies, this one still leaves some questions about cause-and-effect unanswered. Altogether, though, the findings suggest that both the number of social interactions someone has and the quality of those interactions factor into that person’s sense of connectedness and happiness.