Be Social-but Not All the Time: The Declining Marginal Utility of Social Time for Subjective Well-Being


Kushlev, K., Heintzelman, S. J., Oishi, S., & Diener, E. (2018). Be social-but not all the time: The declining marginal utility of social time for subjective well-being. Submitted for publication.


Social life is essential for subjective well-being. But does spending ever more time with others or having ever more social relationships predict ever greater feelings of well- being? Across four studies with more than 250,000 participants, we show that social activities and social relationships have declining utility for subjective well-being. In Study 1 (N = 243,075), we use the Gallup World Poll with people from 166 countries and find that as people spend ever more time with their family and friends, they experience progressively fewer benefits for their subjective well-being. In Study 2 (N = 10,387), we use the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), showing that time spent socializing also has declining returns for experienced happiness. In Study 3a (N = 168), we employ the Experience Sampling Method (ESM), demonstrating that, after a point, spending a greater proportion of one's time socializing is associated with no further improvement of mood; we also find evidence for an intra-domain mechanism behind the observed curvilinearity suggested by the principle of diminishing satisfaction. In Study 3b (N = 174), we provide evidence for an inter-domain mechanism suggested by the principle of satisfaction limits. We discuss the significance and implications for theory (e.g., theories of the balanced life), research methodology (e.g., the need to examine curvilinearity in research on social life), and practice (e.g., the growing number of positive psychological interventions). 

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