Blue Zones

Live Longer, Better

For Years and Money: 5 Rules for Building True Friendships

Posted on September, 20 by Blue Zones

Moai

It may not surprise you to hear that a new friend can help you live longer, but did you know friends can be worth $134,000 of happiness?

I’m not making this up. One behavioral economist[i] at the University of London calculated that an increase in social involvement does just as much for you in terms of life satisfaction as landing a $134,000 increase in salary.

The world’s longest-lived people already understand this. In five longevity hotspots, socializing with friends is an important part of life. Okinawans have moais, groups of people who travel through life together. Sardinians finish their days at a local bar, chatting with friends they’ve known all their lives. And Adventists pot luck.

All this socializing has a measurable result on health. In fact, researchers at Brigham Young University recently discovered that people with stronger social relationships have a 50 percent greater chance of survival than those who don’t. This should come as no surprise, since both ancient wisdom and modern happiness research agree: strong friendships are key–maybe the key–to having a happy life.

Here are some tips from New York University psychologist Irene S. Levine, author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with your Best Friend:

  1. Put it in your calendar. Friendships are built not just on shared interests, but on time shared together. Levine suggests scheduling time for friendship just as you would any other routine that is important for health and well-being.
  2. Face time. It’s important to make time for phone calls, as well as in-person chats, coffee dates, and shared walks, Levine writes.
  3. Remember big moments. Celebrating milestones like birthdays and anniversaries with a phone call or card also supports friendships.
  4. Build traditions. Establishing rituals with close friends—an annual trip to the lake cabin or the beach, a monthly movie date perhaps—can also strengthen bonds.

Remember, it’s the quality of friendships that measurably impacts well-being: supportive, encouraging friends help boost health; draining relationships hurt health.

Then there’s the frenemy: the guy who throws great parties and is a lot of fun to be around, but who can’t seem to stop competing with you.

Studies have shown[ii] that these mixed-bag people raise your blood pressure even more than purely negative people. In fact, researchers at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, found that having a high number of ambivalent relationships is actually a predictor for depression and cardiovascular problems[iii]. Given that finding, it might be worth considering whether it’s time to move on from any of these kinds of friends. That way, you’ll have time to focus on deepening those friendships that really benefit your health.


[i] Powdthavee, N. (2008). Putting a price tag on friends, relatives, and neighbours:
Using surveys of life satisfaction to value social relationships, Journal of
Socio-Economics,
37, 1459-1480.

[ii] Holt-Lundstadt, J., Uchino, B., Smith, T.W., Olson-Cerny, C., & Nealey-Moore, J.B. (2003). Social relationships and ambulatory blood pressure: Structural and qualitative predictors of cardiovascular function during everyday social interactions. Health Psychology, 22(4), 88-397.

[iii] Uchino, Holt-Lundstadt, Uno & Flinders, 2001. Heterogeneity in the social networks of young and older adults: Prediction of mental health and cardiovascular reactivity during acute stress. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 24, 261-382