Monday, January 14, 2013

Make More, Better Friends

I’m always on the lookout for information that will improve everyone’s mental health. Or as they call it now, everyone’s “subjective well-being.”

A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research reports that if you want to feel better, you improve your well-being by making more friends and sustaining more friendships.

Therapy notwithstanding, you don’t get to feel better by getting a better feel for your feelings.

Nor do you get better by going to a therapist and exploring why you don't have any friends.

The fact is: if you spend your time asking yourself why you don't have any friends, that in itself will ensure that you will not solve your problem.

Research says that if you double your number of friends your well-being will improve as much as it would have if you had gained 50% more income.

The unfortunate corollary is: the size of your online network does not correlate positively with your well-being.

Having a ton of Facebook friends or Twitter contacts or even Linked In connections does not provide as much benefit as do real friends.

Here’s the summary:

First, the number of real-life friends is positively correlated with subjective well-being (SWB) even after controlling for income, demographic variables and personality differences. Doubling the number of friends in real life has an equivalent effect on well-being as a 50% increase in income. Second, the size of online networks is largely uncorrelated with subjective well-being.

If this is true, and I think that it is, then you are facing a new problem: how do you go about doubling your number of friends?

You can start with the friends you already have. The more time you spend with them, the better you treat them the more likely it will be that you will develop a reputation as a good friend. Such a reputation will likely attract more people to your orbit.

The better your reputation as a friend the more you will see yourself as a good friend. This will make being a good friend feel normal and natural.

Next, seek harmony, not drama. When you are with your friends try to find common ground, areas on which you agree. Try always to avoid conflict on subjects where you disagree.

Note well: being a good friend requires work. It does not just happen. It does not sustain itself on a wave of affectionate feeling.

Also, too much self-esteem is bad for your friendships.

A good friend thinks more about his friends than he does about himself. He reaches out to them; he gives of himself to them; he demonstrates care, concern and respect for them on a regular basis.

Friendship shows itself in small things more than in large things. If you are courteous and respectful in small matters—like returning messages or saying thank-you—then you will find it easier to sustain your friendships.

One would also do well to heed Aristotle’s dictum: a friend sees the best in his friends.

In a world where we have been taught to see the worst in ourselves and others, where we have learned that finding fault and criticizing is the highest form of loyalty it is good to be reminded, by no less than Aristotle, that these modern formula will cause you to lose friends and to alienate people.

Aristotle would have disagreed with anyone who imagined that he did not really know another person until he knew his worst.

We owe Freud the idea that your truth lies in your worst. As it happens, on this as on many other scores, Freud was wrong and Aristotle was right.

Ignore Freud and embrace Aristotle. It will put you on the path to doubling your number ... of friends.


JP said...

This is pretty obvious to me.

Lastango said...

I'm struggling with this notion because I'm hard-wired into an antique definition of "friend": a person you can count on through thick and thin.

Someone who has one or two true friends is doing well. Three or four is amazing.

IMO, everyone else is an acquaintance.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I think that they are using the term in a larger sense.