Are friends better for us than family?

June 06, 2017

EAST LANSING, Mich. - The power of friendship gets stronger with age and may even be more important than family relationships, indicates new research by a Michigan State University scholar.

In a pair of studies involving nearly 280,000 people, William Chopik found that friendships become increasingly important to one's happiness and health across the lifespan. Not only that, but in older adults, friendships are actually a stronger predictor of health and happiness than relationships with family members.

"Friendships become even more important as we age," said Chopik, assistant professor of psychology. "Keeping a few really good friends around can make a world of difference for our health and well-being. So it's smart to invest in the friendships that make you happiest."

For the first study, Chopik analyzed survey information about relationships and self-rated health and happiness from 271,053 participants of all ages from nearly 100 countries. The second study looked at data from a separate survey about relationship support/strain and chronic illness from 7,481 older adults in the United States.

According to the first study, both family and friend relationships were linked to better health and happiness overall, but only friendships became a stronger predictor of health and happiness at advanced ages.

The second study also showed that friendships were very influential - when friends were the source of strain, participants reported more chronic illnesses; when friends were the source of support, participants were happier.

Chopik said that may be because of the optional nature of relationships - that over time, we keep the friends we like and make us feel good and discard the rest. Friends also can provide a source of support for people who don't have spouses or for those who don't lean on family in times of need. Friends can also help prevent loneliness in older adults who may experience bereavement and often rediscover their social lives after they retire.

Family relationships are often enjoyable too, Chopik said, but sometimes they involve serious, negative and monotonous interactions.

"There are now a few studies starting to show just how important friendships can be for older adults. Summaries of these studies show that friendships predict day-to-day happiness more and ultimately how long we'll live, more so than spousal and family relationships," he said.

Friendships often take a "back seat" in relationships research, Chopik added, which is strange, especially considering that they might be more influential for our happiness and health than other relationships.

"Friendships help us stave off loneliness but are often harder to maintain across the lifespan," he said. "If a friendship has survived the test of time, you know it must be a good one - a person you turn to for help and advice often and a person you wanted in your life."
-end-
The study appears online in the journal Personal Relationships.

Michigan State University

Related Happiness Articles from Brightsurf:

Happiness and the evolution of brain size
Serotonin can act as a growth factor for the stem cells in the fetal human brain that determine brain size.

The key to happiness: Friends or family?
Think spending time with your kids and spouse is the key to your happiness?

Hedonism leads to happiness
Relaxing on the sofa or savoring a delicious meal: Enjoying short-term pleasurable activities that don't lead to long-term goals contributes at least as much to a happy life as self-control, according to new research from the University of Zurich and Radboud University in the Netherlands.

When it comes to happiness, what's love got to do with it?
Researchers from Michigan State University conducted one of the first studies of its kind to quantify the happiness of married, formerly married and single people at the end of their lives to find out just how much love and marriage played into overall well-being.

Health and happiness depend on each other, Psychological Science says
New research adds to the growing body of evidence that happiness not only feels good, it is good for your physical health, too.

Happiness might protect you from gastrointestinal distress
Serotonin, a chemical known for its role in producing feelings of well-being and happiness in the brain, can reduce the ability of some intestinal pathogens to cause deadly infections, new research by UT Southwestern scientists suggests.

Spending on experiences versus possessions advances more immediate happiness
Consumers are happier when they spend their money on experiential purchases versus material ones, according to research from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin.

Braces won't always bring happiness
Research undertaken at the University of Adelaide overturns the belief that turning your crooked teeth into a beautiful smile will automatically boost your self-confidence.

In China, a link between happiness and air quality
In a paper published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, a research team led by Siqi Zheng, the Samuel Tak Lee Associate Professor in MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning and Center for Real Estate, and the Faculty Director of MIT China Future City Lab, reveals that higher levels of pollution are associated with a decrease in people's happiness levels.

The 17 different ways your face conveys happiness
Human beings can configure their faces in thousands and thousands of ways to convey emotion, but only 35 expressions actually get the job done across cultures, a new study has found.

Read More: Happiness News and Happiness Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.