Wellbeing

Are New Friends Worth the Energy Output Required?

I hear from a lot of women who feel defeated in their friendship search, or simply feel like it cannot be a priority in their lives right now.  Many mistakenly think that friendship is the thing to cut when their lives get busy, express feeling guilty for asking their husbands to watch the kids so they can go spend time with a girlfriend, or conclude that since friendships are not happening naturally in their lives that they somehow just need to learn to live without a circle of friends. Maybe you've been there before? Maybe you're there now? Today I just wanted to poke my head in your inbox with a bit of a reminder about that pay-off.  You know the risks.  You know the difficulty.  You know the challenges.  You know the excuses to say no and give up.  You know how weary you feel.  Give me a moment to remind you what you're investing in!

Energy Output: The Investment can be Exhausting

It's a paradox that the actions that take energy also tend to reward us with the most energy. In many life moments, higher investments lead to higher pay-offs.

I mean, the very act of going to the gym is tiring for the vast majority of us, but the pay-off is, ironically, more energy. Most of us don't sit at work feeling fulfilled by the daily tasks and mountains of emails, but the sum total of that output seems to create a sense of achievement and meaning.  I know just on a recreation level that it would be easier and more comfortable to sit on my couch tonight watching TV, but that if I attend to my women's business group, I'll actually come home more rejuvenated than any show could provide. I've learned that most things in life aren't the easiest default option, but they do tend to be worth the investment.  And friendship is simply one of those things-- less meaningful in the beginning and a greater source of energy output, but the payoff is exponential.

Energy Input: The Payoff can be Exponential

Gallup's latest research revealed in the book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements

shows that there are five universal, interconnected elements that together reveal your overall well-being.  Apparently, liking what you do every day (career wellbeing) is the most significant factor to your overall health and happiness, but guess what number 2 is? Yep, social wellbeing, also known as "Do you like who you're doing life with?"

While you have undoubtedly heard me quote all kinds of research about how important your circle of friends is to your life, the research just continues to inspire!

  • You're Influenced by Entire Network. Our wellbeing is impacted by our entire social network. You are 6% more likely to be happy if your friend's friend's friend--count them, three degrees removed!-- is happy. The reverse is just as true.
  • Friends Impact More Than money. Compare the above 6% increase to the 2% increase in happiness if your annual income goes up $10,000! "This led the study's authors to conclude that that the wellbeing of friends and relatives is a more effective predictor of happiness than earning more money."
  • Your Health Prevention is at Stake. People with few social connections are at twice the risk of dying from heart disease or of catching a common cold (even though they're arguably exposed to more germs!)
  • Proximity Matters. A friend who lives within a mile will have way more positive influence on your wellbeing than friends across the country. (Why GFC advocates making local friends even though it's not as easy as picking up the phone to talk to your BFF in your hometown! It's worth it!)
  • Friendships Especially Important in Aging Well. One study showed that in adults over the age of 50, that their memories declined at half the rate if they were socially active compared to those who were least social.
  • You Need More than One BFF! Every additional close friendship adds to your wellbeing. "Our research has found that people who have at least three or four very close friendships are healthier, have higher wellbeing, and are more engaged in their jobs."
  • The More Time Invested, the Happier You Are:
    Every hour of daily social interaction increases your happiness by 10%!

    The data shows that to have a thriving day you need six hours of daily social time!  Six hours?!?!?! That even surprised me! Apparently regardless of personality types and other variables-- those who are thriving in life are reporting an average of six hours every day of connecting which can include: talking to friends, socializing at work, being on the phone, communicating on facebook, etc. Across the board, every hour of social connection added to your day increases your happiness almost 10%! (Isn't it ironic how easy it is to cancel on a friend when we've a bad day or skip out on socializing when we're depressed, when in actuality, that very act of connecting will raise our spirits?)

I know it's tiring.  I know.  I know it's discouraging at times, I know.

But I also know that this is one investment that promises the biggest pay-off to your overall happiness and health. No small thing!

May you be reminded that your willingness to engage, to meet new people, to initiate the next get-together, to schedule women into your life and to foster these friendships over time is proving to raise your wellbeing! And don't we all want that? ______________ * All research listed in this blog can be found in the chapter on Social Wellbeing in Gallup's latest book, Wellbeing by Tom Rath & Jim Harter. Purchasing their book provides a code for your access to take their Wellbeing Assessment.

One Girl Trying to Find Happiness Today...

I woke up this morning in a funk. The kind of blah mood that leaves me staring out windows and rolling my eyes at my to-do list. It's complicated when well-intentioned people ask me "what's wrong?" and I pause for a second, trying to come up with some litany of reasons that would cause the questioner to nod their head in agreement. I really do wish I had a justified reason, something I could point to, an understanding of why I feel unhappy. But I don't. Maybe I'm just tired?

Increasing my Happiness But while I may not have a specific reason to be suffering from some lack of adrenaline today, I do know bits and pieces of what will move me away from this space. Certainly I'm going to go to bed early tonight. I am going to try to get at least one thing checked off my to-do list today (writing this blog will count!) I am going to pause for five minutes and add bullet points to my gratitude journal. I am going to go for a late afternoon walk and get some fresh air and hope that a few endorphins sneak into my body. And, I am going to go to Girls Night tonight.

Every Tuesday night I go. I don't ever ask myself if I want to go. Tonight, I fear, I'd vote against attending if I raised the question. So, I just go. It's scheduled into my life the same way I wake up and go to work, brush my teeth, meditate and pray, watch Private Practice on Thursday nights, eat pizza on Saturday nights, show up in spiritual community every weekend and check my email. We routinize those things that are significant to us, those things that matter. And friendship is one of them for me.

As it is for you. Whether you know it or not.

Gretchen Rubin in The Happiness Project gives an entire chapter to "Make Time for Friends" saying "One conclusion was blatantly clear from my happiness research: everyone from contemporary scientists to ancient philosophers agrees that having strong social bonds is probably the most meaningful contributor to happiness."

In this year's book Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, they list our social connections as the second most significant factor (only after career, which determines much of our identity and contribution) to our wellbeing. Not only because who we interact with influences our habits, behaviors and health, but the very process of interacting decreases our stress and elevates our mood. A quote for me today: "Each hour of social time quickly decreases the odds of having a bad day."

And here's a kicker from the Harvard News last week based on research from their psychologists who found that "people were happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working, or using a home computer." hmm.... that explains a lot.

I could go on and on, listing the evidence to support the link between our happiness and our social connections.

On the one hand the research doesn't surprise most of us. On the other hand, I find when I'm in a bad mood that I am more prone to want to cancel plans, withdraw, be alone or simply vegetate in front of the TV. Typically as we feel depressed or low energy, our desire to interact wanes. And yet, counter-intuitively, I know that the best way to raise my joy is to connect. Ahh the conundrum.

Therefore, I have a rule with myself that I don't connect with people based on my moods, but rather based on my values. Anyone who has had any success with regular exercise knows the need. If I only went running when I was looking forward to it then I probably wouldn't make it out there all too often! But for my health, for my happiness, for the things I value, for the life I want-- I will connect.

So tonight I go to girls night. I may not be the chipper one, bringing my typical positivity to the others. But I'll be there! And if science is right, arguably I should come home to my husband a wee-bit happier tonight. Which could inevitably lead to another happiness booster on the Harvard list! May as well try everything! ;)