Friends could be the key to happiness in midlife

A new study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that, at midlife, having a wide circle of friends is vital to one’s happiness and well being.

The study looked at 6,500 Britons aged 50, and found that having regular interactions with friends on a regular basis made a significant impact on their psychological health. This was found to be especially important for women.

The data was taken from the British National Child Development Study (NCDS), a linear study that followed a group of people born within the same week in 1958, from age 7 onward.

They looked at surveys collected from the participants at age 42, 45, and 50 that featured questions about the number of friends and relatives they met up with once a month or more, and their psychological health.

“Having fewer than five friends at age 45 predicted significantly poorer psychological well-being at age 50,” the researchers wrote in the report.

Forty per cent of men and one third of women said they had more than six friends they interacted with on a regular basis. The results showed these people were much happier than their peers with less friends. Maintaining friendships is also key, as frequent interactions matter as much as how many friends you have.

Family was also found to be a significant factor in happiness at this age, but was found to be more important for men than for women.

The study also suggested that the less education men had, the more likely they were to have large social networks. Men who left school between age 17 and 19 were 55 per cent more likely to have a large social group, while men who continued school after age 20 were only 40 per cent more likely to have a similar quantity of friends.

For women, the opposite was found to be true. Those who continued a post secondary education after age 20 were 74 per cent more likely to have a wide network of friends, while those who ended their education between 17 and 19 came in at only 38 per cent.

Being single was also found to contribute to a smaller group of friends.

Other studies have also pointed out the importance of friendship in midlife. In 2010, researchers compiled data from 150 previous studies to find that friendship can have as big an impact on one’s risk of death as smoking, drinking, obesity and physical activity.

Looking to make new friends or expand your social circle? Here are a few tips to foster potential new friendships: 

Volunteer: This is a great way to meet people in your local community who have the same interests as you. Career wise, it can also be a way to network and make new connections. Giving back to a charity or local organization is good for your health and well being on its own, even without the added bonus of making new friends.

Take a class: Follow your interests and people who share them will suddenly be within reach. If you’ve always wanted to learn a new art, sport or craft activity, now is the time. People with common interests make for the best friends.

Get a dog: While dogs are known to boost happiness and fend off depression, they are also natural people magnets, making it easier to break the ice when meeting people at a park or when taking your pet for a walk.

Be open to everyone: Becoming friends with someone in their 30s may seem a little odd at first when you are in your 50s or older, but keeping an open mind will allow for a much wider and diverse social network.

Attend a conference: Similar to taking a class, conferences are often filled with like minded people open to meeting others and making new connections.

Be assertive: Meet someone new that you’d like to become friends with? Don’t be shy. Ask for their number and make the first move to invite them out – and be sure to follow up.

Make friends through friends: This one should be obvious. The friends you do have will have other friends in their lives that you will meet on occasion. Make the effort to engage with them and set up future social engagements.

Keep up with old friends: It goes without saying that maintaining the friendships you already have should be a number one priority, but busy lives too often get in the way. If you see a friend less often, be the one to keep in touch and suggest activities to do together.

Do  you have any suggestions for making new friends? Let us know in the comments.

Sources: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Huffington Post

Photo © Yeulet

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