The Surprising Truth About Friendships And Happiness

Offline Friends Better Than Online

Why do we need friends? What are our best friends for? Why do we need that love that comes with our social bonds of friendships? Why friends are key to our happiness?

Friendships are close-knit relationships with strong ties between them. They are complex and demanding, yet meaningful and fond. They are unique relationships, because we choose to keep them or leave them without any contracts. Friends are friends because they want to be.

The Qualities of A Friend

Not anybody who lives around you can be your friend. Your greatest chances of friendships are with those with whom you keep meeting or coming across on a regular basis. And once you grow close friends with someone, you tend go through a certain set of interactions.

As pointed out by Professor John Gottman, founder of Relationship Research Institute, friends share certain qualities of close relationships.

  • Friends are there for fun
  • Friends take care of each other
  • You feel secure with your friends
  • Friends rubber-stamp your self-worth
  • You share an ability to love them and be loved back
  • Friends are always there to celebrate the good times
  • Friends are your source of direct help in troubled times
  • There is mutual understanding between you and your friends
  • Their difference of ideas and influences help you grow and learn

The Expectations From A Friend

William Rawlins, the Stocker Professor of Interpersonal Communication at Ohio University, and author of The Compass of Friendshipsays, “I’ve listened to someone as young as 14 and someone as old as 100 talk about their close friends, and three expectations of a close friend that I hear people describing and valuing across the entire life course.”

  1. Somebody to talk to
  2. Someone to depend on
  3. Someone to enjoy

He further said, “These expectations remain the same, but the circumstances under which they’re accomplished change.”

The Type of Friends You Have

Not all of our friends are similar. There are 3 AM friends and there are fair-weather friends. Aristotle was the first one to distinguish between different types of friendship. Modern psychology identifies 4 types of friendship:

  1. Acquaintance – Acquaintances are friends who are in frequent contact with each other, but they don’t know each other quite well. They interact only in superficial ways, and don’t share emotional content of their lives.
  2. Casual – Casual friends share some thoughts and feelings in careful and watchful ways.
  3. Agentic – Agentic friendships are practical friendships and such friends typically share certain tasks or goals.
  4. True – True friends express authentic emotions to each other without fear. They can share most of their emotions in bareness and rawness.

We, perhaps, need all four types. “We have the deepest, most intimate connection with our strong ties, of course, but it turns out that weak ties are very important sources of information and contacts; because they’re further away from us, they have access to information that we might not already have,” writes Gretchen Rubin.

Your Happiness Affects Your Friends

James Fowler is an American psychologist who specializes in social networks. He was named a 2010 Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Nicholas Christakis is an American physician who also researches on social networks. He was named a Fellow at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2010. Fowler and Christakis came together at Harvard to conduct a meta-study involving 5,000 students over a period of 20 years, and published the results in the British Medical Journal.

They concluded, “People’s happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected.”

Happiness is viral. For the first time in the history of happiness studies, they had focused on a key element of human happiness: The Happiness of Others. They scientifically proved that your happiness, rather than remaining self-absorbed, is carried over long distances within your social networks.

Happiness is 'viral' - it spreads like a virus within a social network. Click To Tweet

You’re 15.3% more likely to be happy if a person directly connected to you is happy. Happiness is indeed viral.

Catch The Happiness ‘Virus’

Fowler and Christakis guessed that emotional states can be transmitted directly from one person to another by social mimicry – that is, copying of facial expressions and body language. Individuals ‘catch’ the happiness of others over periods of time ranging from seconds to weeks.

They further showed one person’s happiness spreads through their social group even up to 3 degrees of separation (for example, to one’s friends’ mothers’ sister), and that the effect lasts as long as 1 year.

In their words, “It is not only the number of direct ties but also the number of indirect ties that influence future happiness. The better connected are one’s friends and family, the more likely one will attain happiness in the future.”
Happiness Facebook Friends

Friends Really Make You Happy

Yes. Friends make our lives happier, as anybody will swear by. People with a good circle of friends are happier. What research tells us is that while happiness gets us more friends, more friends make us happier too. It works both ways, creating an upward spiral.

Psychologists have found that people are happier when they are with other people (as compared to when they are alone), and this holds true for introverts as well as extroverts.

They also found that happy people are more sociable. This creates a direct equation between happiness and sociability — being in the company of people makes us feel happier, and again, being happier makes us tend to socialize more.

In 2014, behavioral scientists Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroede published the results of a study they conducted on commuters on Chicago trains and buses in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. They had asked some people to talk to the strangers near them on their commute. To some, had they asked to remain disconnected. To the others, they had asked to continue as they would normally.

They found that those who connected with more people felt more positive and happy.

So, next time you’re on a commute, talk to strangers around you – you’ll make yourself happier.

Friends Matter More Than Your Kids

In the pecking order of relationships, friendships always feature at the bottom. Our partners, spouses, parents, children come first. But research dishes out information which seems both distasteful and indigestible to our traditional thinking: Spending time with your friends makes you more happy than spending time with anyone else of your close relationships.

George MacKerron is an environmental economist at the London School of Economics. While studying for his PhD, in 2010, he invented Mappiness, an iPhone app that collects and analyzes information from thousands of people to find out when, where and why were they at their happiest. Nearly 50,000 people have downloaded the free app, and clocked more than 3 million responses overall. You must agree that it was a massive amount of data to work with.

He found that people’s moods improved by 8.2% while they were with their friends, but fell to 5.9% when they were with their partners. Shockingly, according to the data, with children their happiness levels fell further down to 1.4%.

The results are below (mood improvement when in company, as compared to when alone):

  1. Friends  — improve your mood by 8.2%
  2. Spouse or partner — improve your mood by 5.9%
  3. Other family — improve your mood by 2.9%
  4. Children — improve your mood by 1.4%
  5. Clients or customers — improve your mood by 0.7%
  6. Colleagues or classmates — improve your mood by 0.6%

See the #1 on that list again: Friends. Among all our close relationships, friends are the cause of our greatest happiness. That should drive home the point — To be most happy, be with your friends.

And to be least happy, spend time with your colleagues (wink, wink).

Your friends actually make you more happy than your spouses or kids, says research. Click To Tweet

Final Words

So, the tips are: have a few more friends (even of the casual or acquaintance type), connect with strangers on a bus ride, share your happiness with your friends. Here are three of my most favorite quotes on friendships:

  • Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession; friendship is never anything but sharing. ― Elie Wiesel
  • A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow. ― William Shakespeare
  • Be slow to fall into friendship, but when you are in, continue firm and constant. ― Socrates

Related Book

In When Friendship Hurts: How to Deal with Friends Who Betray, Abandon, or Wound You, Jan Yager, recognized internationally as a leading expert on friendship, demonstrates how, why, and when to let go of bad friends and how to develop the positive friendships that enrich our lives on every level.

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