I know a few secrets now. When I see my daughters struggling with friends, I can reassure them that the conflicts can be resolved. If you find friends you can hold onto forever, that's a great gift!
Jeffrey Zaslow, author of "The Girls From Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship"
Yesterday from behind her office cubicle I overheard my friend Suze hang up her phone, giggle and say out loud to herself, "I just love my friends."
I smiled to myself, & thought, "Me too!" I had just finished reading a round robin of emails from college friends who had just read Tara Parker-Pope's article in the New York Times, "What Are Friends For? A Longer Life"
Follow that up with yesterday's Time Magazine article, "Is There a Longevity Personality?" and we've got ourselves a prescription for a Happy Healthy Long Life.
In "What Are Friends For? A Longer Life", Tara Parker-Pope wonders why people overlook one of key roads to good health---friends.
- Psychological well-being. Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships, according to Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro.
- Support & understanding. Just take a look at the 11 women chronicled in Zaslow's book. They've been friends for over 40 years, even though they are now scattered over 8 states. When two of the women were recently diagnosed with cancer, they immediately turned to their friends. "It was instant that the love poured in from all of them." As Kelly Zwagerman said, "We go so far back that these women will talk about anything."
- Breast cancer mortality. In a 2006 study of 3,000 nurses with breast cancer--those without close friends were 4 times more likely to die from the disease than women with 10 or more friends. And it didn't matter how far away they lived or how often they were able to see their friends. The surprising point: having a spouse wasn't associated with better survival--but friends were.
- Overall health. "Friendship has an even greater effect on health than a spouse or a family member," according to Bella DePaulo, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
- Coronary heart disease. Friendships benefit men as well. A Swedish study of middle-aged men found that "attachment" to one person didn't affect their risk of a heart attack as much as having a large social network did. In fact, lack of friends was second only to smoking as a risk factor for coronary heart disease. Something to think about guys.
- Lightening the load. Have you ever noticed how work is easier when you share it with a friend? I love this study! University of Virginia students were asked to walk up a steep hill carrying a heavy backpack. Some walked up the hill with friends--some walked alone. The ones who walked up the hill with a friend had lower estimates of the hill's steepness than those who walked up the hill by themselves. And the longer the friends had known each other--the less steep the hill seemed.
- Brain health. A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that having a strong network of friends helped to preserve one's memory while aging.
- Colds be gone! Strong friendships correlated with getting fewer colds--possibly because of less stress.
- In the April 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society researchers looked at the personality traits of 246 children of centenarians. Why did they look at the children, not the centenarians? It was easier to follow the children over time--the 100 year olds weren't going to live much longer--and research has shown that the children of centenarians are likely to live longer than normal, and share the personality traits of their long-lived parents.
- Those who live the longest are more outgoing, more active, and more laid-back (the study defines this as less neurotic, less emotionally reactive, less distressed) than those who live a normal life span. Translation: they have more friends!
- The women who live the longest are more cooperative, more empathetic, & more agreeable than those living a normal life span. Translation: they have more friends.
- The surprise finding to the study? Longevity had nothing to do with how self-disciplined one is or how open to new ideas or experiences one is. Hmm.
- What does this all mean? The researchers think that the less neurotic one is, (emotionally reactive & distressed) the easier it is to get through life's stressful situations. And the out-going extroverted personality is associated with a greater sense of well-being & vitality.
- Bottom Line: Chill out, don't-worry-be-happy, make-new-friends-but-keep-the-old, be a tad more understanding, and give up the control-thing---but if you need a little help just skip to the next section!
1. Count Your Blessings--but not everyday. Do it too much & it will lose its freshness & meaning.
2. Hear the Music--it activates parts of the brain that can trigger happiness & release endorphins. My friends Les & Tess drove around on Saturday with the top down--blaring Creedence Clearwater Revival & feeling about 18 years old.
3. Snog. Canoodle. Get It On--it's all about those endorphins and oxytocin, the "hormone of love".
4. Nurture Your Spirituality--study after study link strong religious faith (of any kind) with greater happiness.
5. Move Your Body--physical movement, exercise, sport or dance will lift your mood, release endorphins & keeps you healthy.
6. Laugh Big--it's socially bonding, reduces stress & strengthens the immune system--besides it just feels so darn good!
7. Do Something Nice for Someone Else--it makes the "doer" happy & doing 5 nice things in one day will make you feel better than spreading them out over one week.
8. Make More Money Than Your Peers--this is according to a Penn State Study. I'd change that to: Hang out with people who make about the same amount as you do--or who at least aren't bigger spenders than you.
9. Seek Positive Emotion as a Path to Success--happiness can lead to success, rather than the other way around.
10. Identify With Your Heritage--appreciating one's culture creates & strengthens bonds with others who share that culture & will help you to appreciate cultural differences.
11. Use a Happy Memory as a Guide--remember what makes you happiest & do more of it.
12. Play the Part of an Optimist--straighten up your body posture, take big steps, and walk quickly with your shoulder back & your head up! Change your tone of voice--make it cheerful & full of energy. Use upbeat positive words! Voila--you'll feel optimistic!
13. Try New Things--the more things you try, the greater the chance for positive emotions.
14. Tell Your Story to Someone--talk about the good stuff & the bad stuff & to a variety of people.
15. Balance Work and Home--establishing work-home boundaries strengthens your family connections & keeps you sane.
16. Be Like the Danes: Keep Expectations Realistic--the higher one's expectations, the further they can fall.
17. Make Time--Cut to the chase & spend more time on those things you'd like to spend time on.
18. Visualize Happiness--positive thoughts have an impact on the brain's biochemistry.
19. Smile--it's contagious & people end up feeling the emotion they are acting at the moment.
20. Marry Happy--if you are married to someone who is happy, then your are happy too.
So, what do you think? Does this make sense to you?