Friendship might be the key to well-being.
We all recognize having strong relationships is important for our well being. The world is filled with advice on how to improve your relationship with your family, your coworkers, and your romantic partner. But there’s precious little information on how to make and maintain friends.
That’s too bad because research studies consistently show that friend relationships are just as important as family ones in predicting psychological well-being. In fact, a 2010 meta-analysis, which combined data on 300,000 people across 148 studies, found a strong correlation between social relationships and life span. The size of the effect was similar to health-related behaviors such as smoking and exercise.
Is it possible to quantify how important it is to have friends? A follow-up 2015 analysis, which combined data on 3.4 million people across 70 studies, found the absence of significant social connections had the same health risk as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. What’s more, loneliness led to worse outcomes than obesity. These findings held true for all ages.
… close relationships are the most important predictors of mortality, well above things like alcohol consumption, exercise and diet. With a network of reliable friends, we live longer and in better health.
Unfortunately, friendship usually is prioritized lower than other relationships. This is partly because people move and change jobs more frequently than they used to; physically and psychologically leaving people behind. In addition, online friends and followers are increasingly confused with deep friendship.
Depth of the friendship is critical. A recent study showed adults feel most comfortable if they have three to five close friends. And, if someone considers you their best friend, your satisfaction in life is significantly higher than those who don’t.
Unfortunately, people have fewer close friends than they used to. A 20-year study showed a drop from an average of three friends “they could discuss important things with” down to two. Even more critically, nearly 25% of the respondents had no one they could count on as a close friend; triple the number 20 years before.
A close friendship is a complex relationship which can be just as rewarding and confusing as family and marriage. Having friends with a wide range of backgrounds is advantageous, as diversity in relationships can be just as beneficial as diversity in business. Close friends complement other relationships.
Stay in touch with existing friends. Make a new one, if you can. Your life will be better because of it.