The unsung powers of friendship: 7 studies
Friends are underrated. It is romantic relationships that are valued and celebrated. They have co-opted the word “relationship,” a great big word that should encompass much more than just coupledom. They get all the privilege — the respect, the recognition, the celebration. If romantic relationships turn into marriage, they get much more, including more than 1,000 legal benefits and protections.
Meanwhile, scrappy friendships get by on their own. They don’t lean on the crutch of sexual attraction. They are not boosted by legal benefits or protections.
And yet, there they are, enhancing our lives.
I’ve curated a small sampling of research findings illustrating ways in which our friends may make us better, stronger, happier, less timid, and more successful. As you will see, sometimes our friends do not even need to be present in order for them to enhance our lives — just thinking about them will do the trick.
- We may be happiest when we are with our friends. In a study published in the prestigious journal Science, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues asked 909 adults to indicate who they were with the day before and how they felt during each of their interactions. Participants said they were happiest, and enjoying themselves the most, when they were with friends. They were also least likely to feel worried, sad, or angry when they were with friends. Interactions with other kinds of people, such as spouses, romantic partners, relatives, children, customers, or coworkers, didn’t seem to be as emotionally rewarding.
- Young adults who are especially good at friendship are more likely to succeed, a decade later, at work, friendship, and romance. How important is it to have a close, confiding friendship when you are in your early 20s? How important is having a close relationship with a romantic partner? More than 200 young adults were evaluated in those two domains by their own reports, and the assessments of their parents and clinical psychologists. Ten years later, friendship skills mattered more. Those who had a close, confiding friendship when they were in their 20s were more likely to be succeeding at paid work in their 30s. They…