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Are Our Friends Better for Us than Our Families?

New research shines light on our relationships.

shutterstock/monkey business images
Source: shutterstock/monkey business images

When it comes to our health and happiness, friendship packs a powerful punch, enriching our lives and bolstering our wellbeing. And now, a new study shows that as we get older this effect gets even stronger—surpassing the impact of our spouse, siblings and children.

Researcher William Chopik conducted two studies exploring both friend and family relationships. First, in a study of over 270,000 people in 100 countries, he found that both family and friends positively impact our health and happiness in general, but as we get older, only our friendships prove to be beneficial.

In the second study of over 7,000 older Americans, the research showed that the quality of a relationship is what matters. If a friendship was a source of support, it brought happiness, but if a friendship was a source of stress, it could be tied to chronic illness. Interestingly, family relationships that were a source of strain did not link to chronic illness.

In later life, as our friends move away and pass away and our mobility declines, the risk of loneliness rises. So as we get older, it becomes crucial for us to invest time in social activities, join social groups and get to know the people we see on a regular basis whenever possible. Even simple social interactions with people at the local coffee shop or grocery store can make a big difference in a person’s feeling of being connected and cared about.

This study dovetails with others that show that—at any age--we find time spent with our friends to be more enjoyable than time spent with our spouses or family members. Chopik’s research advises that often family relationships are tainted by seriousness, negativity and a sense of obligation. This contrasts with the lightness, positivity and sense of choice that generally comes with friendship. After all, we pick our friends and they pick us and that mutuality brings with it an implicit affection that makes us feel secure and valued.

Big picture: All relationships that provide support are good for us, but as we get older we should take extra care to invest in friendships, because along with happiness, they can also bring us a long life!

References

Chopik, W. J. (2017) Associations among relational values, support, health, and well-being across the adult lifespan.Journal of Personal Relationships, 29 (2), 408-422.

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