In two studies which analysed data from almost 300,000 participants from 91 different countries, researchers found that people who strongly valued their social network had a greater sense of wellbeing. Being close with family also helped, but the older the adult, the more of a positive impact friendship had on their mental and physical health.
“I went into the research sort of agnostic to the role of friendship,” explained the study’s author and assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University, William Choprik.
“But the really surprising thing was that, in a lot of ways, relationships with friends had a similar effect as those with family – and in others, they surpassed them.”
It turns out having a heap of mates isn’t the be all and end all though, it’s the quality of these friendships that actually matters most.
When participants said their relationships with others were strained, they were more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses. When they felt their friendships were a source of support, the opposite was true.
But according to Choprik, these findings aren’t surprising – while our bloodline is bestowed upon us, we get to choose who we buddy up with.
“A few studies show that we often enjoy our time with friends more than with family,” Choprik said. “We do leisurely things with friends, whereas family events are often serious or maybe a little monotonous.”
He also believes the benefits get bigger as we age, as the friendships we’ve kept have stood the test of time.
“You have kept those people around because they have made you happy, or at least contributed to your wellbeing in some way,” he added.
“Across our lives, we let the more superficial friendships fade and we’re left with the really influential ones.”
And for those of us who consider our family members as our closest pals – that’s totally fine too.
“The general point is that the more support, the more positive interactions, the better,” he said. “The important thing is having people you can rely on, for the good times as well as the bad.”