There are times when you just want to be alone. You need the quiet and the inner reflection of your own company.
But like a diet that's too heavy on one food group, you need to mix up your "social nutrition." It's not enough that you chat with a coworker over coffee or a neighbor over mail. Research finds that you need a balanced diet of daily social interaction and alone time to really thrive.
For the study, nearly 400 participants across the U.S. kept a diary of their "social diet," including time they spent by themselves and time they spent with others. They also reported their feelings of well-being throughout the day.
Researchers ended up with more than 10,000 moments to analyze for patterns that linked social interaction with well-being. The results were published in the journal Human Communication Research.
"It's not that we have to rearrange our entire lives so we sit and commune with the closest people around us all day long," coauthor Jeffrey Hall, professor of communication studies at University of Kansas, said in a statement. "The results support the idea that we need a couple of high-quality interactions in a day, which can range from serious discussions to catching up and joking around."
In addition to spending quality time with some of our nearest and dearest, it's key that we also enjoy time by ourselves.
"You need to be quiet, meditate, nap, chill, whatever you do," Hall said. "It's alone time, but it's about having a balanced system. It's not just that more social time is always better. It's about ratios. It's about proportionality."
Researchers used the term "social biome" to describe the mix of interactions and solitude that people have each day.
"Your social biome can be thought of as homeostatic social system," Hall said. "Some interactions are required, like ones you have to do for your job, and some are habitual or routine. But some are intentional, personal and meaningful in ways that strongly link us to one another. We're working to identify the patterns of interactions that reflect a well-functioning social system."
Our social biomes are typically a mix of superficial chatting with strangers, spending time with friends and family, and being alone. It's the mix of all three of these that makes for a healthy social diet.
Small talk can be exhausting
The social biome research is explained in depth in the video above. One of the goals of the research was to dig deeper into Hall's Communicate Bond Belong (CBB) theory. He says the two basics of the theory are, "we are motivated to interact because we need to secure meaningful relationships. And second, we can't interact all the time because we have limited amount of energy."
Basically, we want to deal with people but we can't do it constantly or we'll be drained.
"Small talk conversations (like those I always seem to have with amiable Uber and Lyft drivers) can be exhausting," writes coach and author Christopher Bergland in Psychology Today. "Obligatory social interactions often require a lot more effort than shooting the breeze with a bunch of friends or having a coffee catch-up with your BFF."
The goal is to keep your social biome balanced. Don't try to socialize all day or make every single conversation meaningful. The best interactions are those times you don't have to try very hard.
"Research on friendship has always said that one of the main characteristics of a close friendship comes from a sense of ease," Hall said. "It's easy to be around them. It's easier to be yourself around them. You don't have to put on a face. You don't have to worry that they will misinterpret what you're saying. You know that they have your best interests at heart."