Ask people what makes them happiest, and it’s likely that one of the things they mention is spending time with friends. It’s a natural human response to seek out the company of others and to take pleasure from good friends and in being part of a social group.
However, the big question is: Can having good friends really make you a happier person overall? Or are other things in life more important when it comes to generating a sense of mental wellbeing?
Happiness is a Chain Reaction?
Back in 2008, researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of California conducted a study, examining the happiness of 5,000 participants over the course of 20 years. This extensive piece of research sought to identify exactly what brought about positivity.
The researchers found that happiness is not an isolated event, but rather, it is more like a pleasant disease. They observed that happiness seemed to be passed on from person to person like a contagion, and that this ‘network’ effect could be far-reaching.
Professor Nicholas Christakis, who co-authored the study, commented: ‘We’ve found that your emotional state may depend on the emotional experiences of people you don’t even know, who are two or three degrees removed from you.’ He also added that ‘the effect isn’t just fleeting.’
In short, your happiness is often generated by your friends. But it’s also generated by your friends’ friends, who made them happy first. And in turn, those friends were made happy by other friends. Interestingly, the study showed that sadness did not travel in the same manner. It seems that while happiness loves company, misery distinctly shows a preference for solitude!
The Value of Friends
In our modern society, we often place value on objects, such as flat-screen smart TVs, expensive tablet computers and mobile phones. However, according to George MacKerron, a wellbeing specialist from the University of Economics, happiness lies with other people and with enriching experiences, not with material possessions.
Most of us, thankfully, seem to realise this. The comedian Michael Palin comments: ‘All sorts of things make me happy: getting up in the morning and not falling over for one. Sitting in a café with a cup of coffee, good company with friends. It sounds terribly pretentious but it is true.’
Likewise, designer Katharine Hamnett adds: ‘Happiness to me is family, good close friends… laughter and love. All those are real, and give me a lasting happiness that handbags don’t – and can’t – give.’
Friends Improve with Age
Professor Karen Fingerman, a specialist in human development and family science from the University of Texas, highlights some welcome news; the quality of our friendships tends to improve with age. She states that ‘it almost doesn’t matter what relationship you’re talking about. They get better when you get older.’
However, psychologist Laura Carstensen, from the Stanford Center on Longevity, urges people to focus on creating diversity within their friendship groups, and in particular, to welcome those who are younger than them.
Time to Get Social!
Having good friends can add richness, variety and fun to your life. If you feel isolated, explore the option of joining a local club which provides the perfect opportunity to meet new people. If you’ve not called your friends in a while, now is the ideal time to do so, and to re-establish that valuable contact once again.
To join our community The Best of Friends, simply sign up to our free newsletter via this link.
You can also receive regular updates on health and wellness issues especially geared towards over 50s health by following us on Facebook.