For Maximum Happiness, Find the Time for Each Other

The best experiences among couples and families are shared — for the most lasting relationships in life

Chocolate tastes better when it’s tasted with another person. Happy movies produce more happiness when viewed with others. Pleasant images bring more enjoyment when seen with someone else.

These findings are from recent research on the effects of shared experiences on our well-being.

Social psychologist Erica Boothby, along with colleagues at Yale University, conducted the chocolate-tasting study. In a separate study, Boothby and her research team also examined the impact of psychological closeness on shared experiences. As predicted, they found that psychological closeness between people sharing an experience further amplified the degree of pleasure they felt.

They also found that pleasure was amplified for these people in the absence of communication. It was the psychological closeness and shared experience alone that amped up the pleasure.

Psychological closeness is defined by the extent to which people hold common goals and values, are attached in a committed relationship, or are deeply intimate and reliant on each other. By this definition, we can often find psychological closeness between married couples and between parents and children.

But the demands of work, parenting, and school often make it difficult for families to share pleasurable experiences together and erode psychological closeness. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that over a third of married couples and partners say they don’t have enough time with each other. Over a third of parents say they don’t spend enough time with their children. More than half of the adult respondents aren’t finding enough time for friends or hobbies.

Related: Be Happier in Your Marriage

Excessive time spent alone, with casual acquaintances, or strangers coupled with a lack of time for pleasurable activities negatively affects a person’s sense of well-being. Humans are designed to be social beings. Spouses, parents, and children thrive when they forge strong social bonds with each other. Sustained over time, social isolation and the absence of pleasurable activities break down a person’s will to live.

Individuals who find themselves frequently pulled away from their loved ones need to plan for shared experiences. That usually means saying “no” or “not now” to some of the demands that come their way.

Related: Secrets of a Non-Boring Marriage

Whether you’re a spouse wanting more sharing time and psychological closeness with your spouse, or a parent wanting to bond with your child, consider the following opportunities to carve out meaningful time to share in pleasurable experiences together.

Some of these are activities you need to participate in anyway, so why not share the experience with someone you love?

1.) Share meals together during the week. Every meal you can share together can be a meal where the food tastes better than if you dined by yourself. If you aren’t able to be in the same place at the same time, consider sharing the experience while chatting on the phone or over a videoconference.

2.) Exercise together. The degree of pleasure people feel while exercising varies. But whatever pleasure you get from exercise can increase if you participate in the activity with a spouse or child.

Whatever pleasure you get from exercise can increase if you participate in the activity with a spouse or child.

3.) Watch a series episode or movie together. My experience is that a good comedy is funnier when shared with someone who appreciates the same kind of humor. Adventure movies are more thrilling, and dramatic stories more engaging when experienced with someone who enjoys the same genre.

4.) Participate in a hobby together. Discover an interest you and your spouse, or you and a child can share. Whether it’s collecting trading cards, beekeeping, gardening, or any other fun pastime, a hobby shared with a spouse or child can contribute to a lifetime of good times you can share with each other.

Jon Beaty, counselor and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”