Who Has a Bigger Impact on our Wellbeing-Friends or Family?

“Friends are flowers in the garden of life” – Proverbs

Over twenty years ago I made the decision to move to Cincinnati from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  It was hard to leave my folks and extended family, but my brother lived in Cincinnati so I had family nearby.  Lucky for me, my friend Gail decided to pull up stakes and move with me so I had an instant roommate and someone to share the experience with.

Recently Renu, my lifelong friend (and my college roommate all four years) contacted me and a couple of our other friends to make the pilgrimage to Detroit to see U2.  It has been years since I saw her and our friend Erin, and we all jumped at the chance to see each other and catch up.  I can’t remember the last time I saw either of them in person.  We are still hopeful that our friend Jennifer can join us too.

This weekend I went to an art show where a new friend, Carolyn, was showing her art.  We ran into a few other friends (Betsy, Amy, Carrie, and Marianne), and then went to a taproom to meet our friend, Alexis.

Yesterday my husband and I went to a taproom to visit our friend Kat who was bartending, and two more friends, Evan and Kaycie stopped in.  I made two new friends, Vicki and Charlotte, when I mentioned the bees the taproom keeps and we started a conversation about them and the state of the world today.  Lastly, about an hour before we left, Betty, one of the owners of the taproom and a friend, showed up and we had a wonderful chat.

Why am I prattling on and on about all these friends?  One, because they are all dear to me.  But also because a study at Michigan State University found that as we get older, friendships can become more important than family when it comes to our happiness and health.  “In a pair of studies involving nearly 280,000 people, William Chopik (assistant professor of psychology) 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.”

Now I know some of you reading this are probably like WHAT?  My sister/brother/mom/dad is my best friend.  And to that I say HURRAY!  I love my brother and consider him a friend, but we don’t spend much time together, nor do we really check in on each other that often (much to my mom’s chagrin).  I talk to some of my friends DAILY.   I see some of them weekly.  We have a lot in common and enjoy doing the same things, and most of us are in the same cycle of life.

Why do friends tend to be more beneficial in the long run?

“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.”

I have seen this in action with my own parents.  They spend the winter in Florida in a mobile home park.  They have made a BUNCH of friends, and half the time I can’t even get a hold of them because they are playing cards, going out to eat or at a friend’s house.  When my folks are back in Wisconsin, they have family, but not as many friends.  They spend time with the extended family, but not near as much as with their Florida friends.  In November of last year I interviewed my mom about the importance of community throughout her life (StoryCorps Interview) and when asked what community made the biggest impact on her, she named the Florida friends, for similar reasons as to why I spend time with my friends.

What is the state of your friendships?  The saying goes that you have to be a friend to have a friend.  If you need a few pointers on being a solid friend, check out my blog,   To Friends Past and Present…  And if you need some tips on how to find new friends, my blog Community X 2 can help you out.  Friendships–past, present and future–could hold the key to your wellbeing and happiness.

Source:  Are friends better for us than family?

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