It can be difficult to maintain friendships or make new friends as we get older. Family, work, and other responsibilities take time away from nurturing both new and old friends, but we’re given an invaluable reward when we do make the effort to spend time with people—and that’s the gift of happiness.
August 3rd is National Friendship Day, so let’s take a look at the role that friendship plays in enriching our lives and making us happy.
The Dangers of Loneliness
Loneliness is a serious problem in the U.S. that can have a significant impact on health and overall happiness. John Cacioppo, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, has been studying the effects of loneliness for more than two decades, and he believes that isolation can alter the brain as well as behavior.
“Lonely people don’t know it, but they lose the ability to control their impulses, which also happens in isolated nonhuman animals,” says Cacioppo. “It really is a brain state.”
Loneliness can take a toll on the body in many ways. For example, perceived loneliness can:
- Raise blood pressure
- Make the heart work harder to pump more blood
- Interrupt sleep
- Increase the stress hormone, cortisol
- Increase the risk of depression
- Heighten the body’s inflammatory response
Can Money Buy Happiness?
Money can’t buy happiness, as the saying goes, but it can if you spend it the right way. Michael Norton, a professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, says you can buy happiness when you spend money on other people rather than on yourself, and this paradigm is universally holding true in other countries as well.
In a happiness study conducted at the University of British Columbia, for example, two groups of undergraduate students were given money with specific instructions on how to spend it—some were instructed to buy something for themselves while others were asked to spend this money on someone else. At the end of the study, the students that bought something for other people reported feeling happier than the group that spent the money on items for themselves.
Norton concluded that there is a positive correlation between happiness and giving money—that is, donating money for the benefit of helping others makes people feel happier. Additionally, researchers found that giving inexpensive or trivial gifts (e.g. a $5 cup of coffee) made them feel equally as happy as buying more expensive gifts (e.g. a $20 stuffed animal).
Tips for Making Better Friends
Cacioppo estimates that 20 percent of Americans (roughly 60 million people) struggle with feelings of chronic loneliness. To treat these feelings of isolation, Cacioppo recommends reaching out to people around you by volunteering and saying hello to someone when you’re in a public place. Over time, this will lead to finding more compatible friends that enrich your life and bring you happiness.
If you’re looking to make better friends, here are some things you can do:
- Join a club or a group
- Attend social events (e.g. an art gallery or a trade show)
- Seek out people whom you share a common interest with and talk to them
- Laugh and smile often
- Maintain a positive attitude
- Be helpful, kind, and grateful
- Make yourself available to talk when someone you know is in need
- Establish criteria that will guide your search for compatible friends
- Use social media to reach out to new people
- Ask questions, listen carefully, and give compliments