It is unlikely that many people invite their friends over to scrub the grout in the bathroom or mow the lawn. Similarly, few people have had to stand over their friends and encourage them to finish their homework or pick up their dirty socks. New research has found that despite the initial data saying people are happier around their friends, it may be more a function of what they are doing than who they’re with.

A little help from my friends

The researchers found a surprising result. They reported that people were happiest around their friends, instead of with their romantic partners or children. In fact, people were the least happy around their romantic partners.

There’s more here than meets the eye though. After getting their initial results, that people are happier while spending time with their friends, the researchers looked not at who they were with, but what they were doing with them.

You've got a friend in me

The researchers asked over 400 people to fill out a survey about time they spend with family and friends, what they do, and how it makes them feel. Generally, people rated things like eating, relaxing and socializing as highly enjoyable. And, people were far more likely to be doing those fun activities when with a friend than with a partner.

In fact, for those in the study, over half of their experiences with friends included socializing, whereas only a little over a quarter of their experiences with their romantic partner included socializing. So, it wasn’t the who but the what. People were also more likely to do housework with their partners. Is it suprising that housework does not seem to make people as happy as socializing?

Like romantic partners, the perception of time with children suffered because of housework and commuting, which are frequently associated with time with kids.

Putting fun first

So, what can be done about this? According to study author Nathan Hudson, PhD, in a statement about the report, “It's important to create opportunities for positive experiences with romantic partners and children – and to really mentally savor those positive times. In contrast, family relationships that involve nothing but chores, housework, and childcare likely won't predict a lot of happiness.”

Some of the less fun things in life cannot be avoided. Someone needs to vacuum behind the sofa and wash up after dinner. According to the same statement from Southern Methodist University, “... people report feeling similar levels of well-being while in the presence of friends, partners, and children once the activity was taken out of the equation.” There’s no reason all relationships can’t bring people happiness, assuming people put in the time and effort to include fun activities as well as necessary ones.