Fiona Smith Columnist

Fiona writes on workplace issues, including management, psychology, workplace design, human resources and recruitment. She is a former Work Space editor at The Australian Financial Review and has also covered property, technology, architecture and general news.

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Secret to happiness: Real friends, not Facebook friends

Published 20 March 2013 08:40, Updated 15 April 2013 11:24

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Secret to happiness: Real friends, not Facebook friends

Friends before Facebook ... The stars of the hit TV series Friends, which ended its run in May 2004, three months after Facebook launched. Photo: Fairfax Media

The desire to be happy is such a core part of our psychology, it drives us to do the most extraordinary things. We ditch marriages, because we think we may be better off with a new spouse. We may spend millions on a bigger, more prestigious home that we hope will deliver us a better life, or strive to achieve at work because we believe success will make us happy.

But in doing all this, we usually neglect one of the things that is most likely to make us smiley people – we stop making friends. Research shows that having more friends is much more likely to make us happy than having more money, but as we get older and busier, we leave little time to meet and appreciate new people, preferring to hang on to the friends we already have.

And we have fewer friends than you might think. United States academics, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, say the average person has just four close social contacts, with most having between two and six. In their book, Connected: The Amazing Power Of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, the authors dissect how our number of close friends, their levels of happiness and their geographic proximity can affect our wellbeing – which makes work friends extra important. Their findings include:

  • Emotion is contagious: “Emotions (....and norms and behaviours) spread in social networks from person to person, but they do not spread to everyone,” write Christakis and Fowler. “Just as a ripple in a pond eventually fades away, so does the ripple of an individual’s happiness fade through the social network.”
  • Choose well: Having happy friends makes us happier. Each happy friend you have increases your probability of being happy by 9 per cent, every unhappy friend decreases it by 7 per cent.
  • Be social: The more friends and family you have makes you happier.Playing the averages, the more friends you have, the more likely they will make you happy.
  • Friends with friends: The more connected your friends are, the more likely you will be happy. “Being located in the middle of the network leads to happiness, rather than the other way around.”
  • Live close: When a friend who lives less than a mile (1.6 km) away from you becomes happy, you will be 25 per cent more likely to be happy. If they live more than a mile away, their happiness has no effect.

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