Friendship more important for health than family as we age, study finds

EAST LANSING, Mich. — We may have less time to spend with friends as we get older, but that doesn’t mean that close companionship becomes any less important to our well-being. That’s because our social circle has a greater impact on our health and well-being than family does, a new study finds.

Researchers at Michigan State University conducted two separate, yet related studies, hoping to find the empirical value of friendship.

Group of friends having picnic
A new study finds that friendship is important to our health and well-being as we age than relationships with family members.

The first study analyzed a survey that provided self-reported measures of health and happiness from over 270,000 participants of all ages worldwide. Meanwhile, the second study derived its data on relationships and chronic illness from a survey of nearly 7,500 American adults.

Via the first study, the researchers found that both having healthy relations with family and friends were determinants of good health and happiness in general, but friendship alone was seen to be a solid predictor of positive overall health at later ages.

The second study found that participants who had stress-inducing friends were likely to experience chronic illness, while those who had more supportive friends were happier.

While the notion that friends influence our wellness more than family members may be a bit controversial, it’s important to remember that we have an active hand in selecting friends, which allows us to choose wisely.

For older individuals, friendships can help prevent loneliness when other family members having passed, or from a dearth of workplace interaction.

“There are now a few studies starting to show just how important friendships can be for older adults,” says lead researcher William Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology, in a university news release. “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.”

Unfortunately, friendships are often ignored in social science research, particularly when compared to more formal relationships, like ones of a spousal and familial variety. Chopik argues this is a mistake.

“Friendships become even more important as we age,” he says. “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.”

Because maintaining strong friendships becomes more challenging with age, Chopik points to the most lasting relationships as also the most important to hold onto.

“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,” he says.

The study’s findings were published in the journal Personal Relationships.


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