Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The serious business of friendship

Friendship has been in the news.  An ONS report says people who value friendships are happier in old age.

This seems obvious when you think of the alternative - growing old without the company of good friends.  It doesn't sound appealing, hence the phrase "a lonely old age".

The benefits of having good friends are real and concrete.  I have heard friends described as "engines of happiness" and scientists claiming that friendships can prolong your life more than giving up smoking.

So if friendship is so important, do we take it seriously enough?  Most of us just take our friends (or lack of them) as a given and don't plan for or worry about them like we do things like work, property or pensions.

But arguably investing time and effort in your friends is likely to be much more important than the material stuff to your long term happiness.  What sort of things would you do if you wanted to be more business-like about reaping the benefits of friendship?  Here are three ideas:

Inventory.  If you going to actively manage your  friendships, you have to decide who they are.  Who do you want to be friends with?  It is surprisingly easy to waste time on people who you don't really like and alternatively neglect those you do.  It might see cold but make a mental list of who your close friends are but it is vital if you are going to put "invest" in the right relationships.

Investment.  However strong the original basis for a friendship, it will decline over time if neither party invests time and effort in maintaining and renewing the bond.  Again it sounds clinical but you might have to keep a note of when you last called or met your friends to make sure you don't neglect them.

Marketing.  Adding friends can obviously grow your "relationship capital", with the proviso that you don't want to spread your time among tenuous friendships. So maybe start a new activity where you can meet people or enjoy with existing friends. Many studies of human nature have named joining a group as the best single thing you can do to make yourself happier  as I discussed in How to be happy: 3 books, 1 answer.

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