In the last few articles, I introduced the concept of achieving happiness following the five W’s I have thought through. These are
• Well-wishers (Friends, Family, Culture, Religion, institutions)
In the following few blogs, we will discuss how well-wishers can bring happiness. These include friends, family, culture, region, Volunteer work, and other organizations they may be a member of. The primary mechanism behind all of the above is our social connections.
Friends bring Social Connections and Happiness.
British Anthropologist Dunbar made a famous prediction that humans could have no more than about 150 people in their social sphere. He says individuals generally have up to five people in the closest layer. The next closest layer contains an additional 10. Studies after studies have shown the benefits of friendship. The 2005 Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging found that close relationships with children and other relatives had minimal impact on how long you live. Still, people with the most friends tended to outlive those with the fewest by 22 percent. In fact, according to the researchers, the health risk of having few friends was similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and more dangerous than being obese or not exercising in terms of decreasing your lifespan.
The town of Framingham, Massachusetts, was the focus of a multigenerational study on happiness known as the Framingham Heart Study. They found three key things when they looked at social connections. Happiness is contagious (sadness is not) and happy friends and close neighbors make others happy. Mutual friends (your friends who list you as their friends) who live very close by increasing your happiness by 1.5 times. Distant friends are fine, but the closer your friends are to where you live, the better. So, invest in them.
While many friendship studies focus on the intense relationships of women, some research shows that men can benefit, too. In a six-year study of 736 middle-aged Swedish men, attachment to a single person didn’t appear to affect the risk of heart attack and fatal coronary heart disease but having friendships did.
In a meta-analysis of 148 studies, researchers found a 50% increased likelihood of survival for participants with stronger social relationships. It did not matter if participants were living alone or with others.
How does friendship help us? Social support does help. Social support may trigger physiological sequelae (e.g., reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones) that benefit health and avoid risky behaviors. Social relationships may directly encourage or indirectly model healthy behaviors. You may do the same if your friends like to hike or play tennis. In addition, being part of a social network gives individuals meaningful roles that provide self-esteem and purpose in life. In a 2008 study, 34 students were asked about their visual perception of a climb when standing at the base. People were more optimistic when a close friend was next to their side.
Of course, friendship has its disadvantages. Wrong friends make you make bad health and financial decisions. Being a friend and caregiver to someone suffering physically or mentally for a long time can affect your health. Unfortunately, friendship losses are pretty common. The research found that up to 70% of close friendships and 52% of our social networks dissolve after seven years! They also found that our social context (e.g., school, university, jobs, neighborhoods) is a significant factor in determining our friendships, so that when this changes, so do our companies.
It can be devastating If your close friend cuts off ties with you. Some people say it is as worse as divorce.
Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert identified friends as one of the most significant sources of joy in our lives. Seeing friends and family as often as possible is worth an extra $97,265 a year. Here is my gift to you, my friend!!