Are your biggest asset.

No judgments

It has been well-documented by psychologists that social connections like family or a spiritual community are crucial to health and happiness. Indeed, a 2010 landmark study at Brigham Young University found that people with strong social ties have a 50 percent lower risk of dying than more solitary sorts, even if the socializers smoke or drink excessively. Certainly, a loving family has a huge influence on our well-being. But when it comes to day-to-day joy and ultimate life satisfaction, our friends play a crucial role.

Friends and family: What’s the difference?

There’s something unique about friendship, something that sets it apart from the far more widely studied bonds of family and romance. In fact, we rely on friends to maintain our happiness—one reason being that there is not the same fear of judgments we may get from parents or a partner;

  1. “It can be easier to seek help from friends, to talk honestly about our health and behaviors without fear of worrying or angering them.”
  2. “It can also be easier to vent or moan to a friend and get uncomplicated positive feedback in return.”

With family, it’s complicated…

Uncomplicated positive feedback is not necessarily something that most relatives are known for, however beloved they may be.

  1. “In friendships, there tend to be fewer hierarchies,”
  2. “In families, parents tend to have power over children, and older siblings may have power over the younger,” Marriage, too, comes with a wealth of complications that generally don’t arise with pals.
  3. “Unlike with a romantic partner, with friends, you don’t have the tension that comes with thinking about the future, or the complications that can arise with sex.”

A matter of choice—and mutuality

“Be Slow in Choosing a Friend, Slower in Changing.”

We also have to acknowledge that we don’t get to choose our parents and siblings the way we do our friends. That simple act of choosing, say researchers, can bring a wealth of happiness benefits that may extend from childhood on. “We tend to expect help from our family, so we take it more for granted. But friendships are voluntary, so we often feel deeply grateful when our friends help us out.”

With a little help from my friends

A 30-year Swedish study of 996 adults published in 2013 found that eighth-grade children who felt happy with their friends were more satisfied with life and friendships when they were in their 40s, compared with kids who felt rejected in eighth grade.

Keeping it casual

Of course, not every friend has to be a best friend, or even someone with whom we share our most intimate thoughts. As a matter of fact, most of us have different friends for different parts of life. “You can have your shopping friends, your book club friends and your sport friends.”. “Even if these friendships are casual, the more cohorts you have, the more parts of yourself get valued.”

Surprisingly, the fragmentation that can characterize friendship is also beneficial to happiness: Because you don’t necessarily give your friends all of yourself, friendships can feel less complicated and, often, more fun than the bonds of family or marriage. “Without that stifling family history, you can just enjoy yourself.

Another reason less-intimate friendship confers happiness a benefit is because we have to do some work to keep them going. All that texting and calling to make a date (something we don’t do with a spouse), may make us value our friends more—which contributes to the pleasure we take from them. Think about it: You may not get the same jolt of delight when your spouse comes home (since he or she comes home every day) as you do when you finally manage to connect with a pal after umpteen emails and calendar reconfigurations.

You don’t even have to see your friends in person to reap the benefits. A now-famous 2008 report in the British Medical Journal found that when our friends are happy, we may get happy, too—even if we don’t see or speak to them. The findings suggest that happiness can spread to up to three friends within a given social network, albeit within a fairly close geographical distance.

Quality or Quantity?

Ultimately, though, researchers agree that having at least one close, intimate friendship trumps a large network of casual pals every time. “There is no ideal number of friends you must have to get the benefits,” Rebecca says. “If you have one or two people you can call true friends, who aren’t your partner or your family, you’re in a good place.”

The question is what counts as a quality friendship? Companionship (a person you can count on to show up at a big birthday or other milestone event) expressive support (a friend with whom you can talk about anything, including sex) and instrumental support (a friend who will do things with you or for you—like pick up when you call at midnight to cry about a breakup).

They’ll be there for you

Friendships with these components—quality friendships—play an important role outside the marital relationship, according to Brian. “They can relieve stress in the marriage because they serve as a sounding board, especially important if you are having problems with your spouse,” he says. “Friendships that have all of these qualities are also the most satisfying kind. And the more satisfied you are with your friendships, the more satisfied you are with your life.

Having quality friendships, as opposed to a larger group of casuals, may be especially important in middle age, when people are juggling kids and ailing parents, and may not have time for girls’/boys’ night out. “Once people reach their 30s, 40s and beyond, they tend to prune away the acquaintances and shift into higher-quality, more substantial friendships,” Brian says. Those are the kind of friendships that sustain us for the long haul.

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