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Study Shows How Canceling Unwanted Plans Can Affect Your Happiness

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March 7, 2022
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We've all been in situations where plans with friends are on the table, but we'd really rather not go. As it turns out, going through with plans against our own wishes might wind up having a negative impact on well-being, according to new research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies1.

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Studying socializing choices and their effects on happiness.

We know that humans are ultimately social creatures, but as any introvert will tell you, some of us are more social than others. For this study, researchers wanted to look at how the choice to make plans affects happiness.

The study looked at 155 students who were tasked with reporting their social interactions three times a day for 10 days. They recorded whether they were alone or with other people and whether it was by choice. The participants would then record whether the experience was positive or negative, how satisfied they were with the experience, plus whether the experience gave them a sense of meaning and control.

The students reported being with other people 60% of the time and alone 40% of the time, with 64% of those situations being by choice and 36% not by choice.

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What the study found.

Looking at the reported satisfaction levels of the participants, it appears that feeling able to make the choice about whether to socialize has more of an impact on happiness than whether we decide to be alone or with other people.

Namely, the study found being in a social setting against your will has a worse effect on well-being than being alone against your will. The greatest satisfaction was seen in those who were with other people by choice—but the lowest was in those who were hanging out with people not by choice.

"Being with others is associated with desirable effects if it reinforces one's sense of agency, and it is detrimental in the absence of control," the researchers write in the paper.

As lead researcher Liad Uziel, Ph.D., explains in a news release, previous research has shown social situations are more emotionally intense, whether you wanted to be there or not, which is why choice likely matters so much to how we experience those situations.

The takeaway.

The bottom line is, you can feel very happy and satisfied with a social experience you willingly opted in to—but if your heart isn't in it, the opposite can be true. All the more reason to lean into your more introverted side when that's what you truly need (because we're all ambiverts to some extent) and maybe to cancel those weekend plans you weren't actually looking forward to.