‘Tis the season for hearts and flowers and the power of love—which we all know makes us feel wonderful, both mentally, emotionally and physically. However, it’s not just romantic love that makes us feel great; friendships also have a huge impact on our health and happiness, especially as we get older.
In fact, one recent two-part study* from Michigan State University professor William J. Chopik revealed some enlightening results about the importance of friends. The study found that those who valued relationships with both friends and family generally enjoyed better health and were happier. Additionally, for participants aged 65 and over, friendships were a predictor of health and happiness.
“Friendships become even more important as we age,” said Chopik, assistant professor of psychology. “Keeping a few really good friends around can make a world of difference for our health and well-being. So it’s smart to invest in the friendships that make you happiest.”
This isn’t to say that maintaining good connections with family isn’t important to seniors, Chopik maintained. The study simply showed that enjoying friendships was a better predictor of health and happiness.
Chopik based his conclusions on an analysis of data from over 270,000 people, ages 15-99, from almost 100 countries. They responded to questions regarding how much they valued various relationships and how happy they felt. To see if those self-ratings changed over time, he tracked selected representative groups at specific intervals through the years.
The second part of the study, involving 7,481 Americans with a median age of 68, also concluded that friendships had a significant impact on health, finding that when friends were supportive, respondents were happier. Conversely, when friendships caused strain or stress, respondents reported more chronic illnesses.
For some seniors, it can be challenging to maintain vital friendships as they age, especially if they live alone or have difficulty getting around. Attending community programs for seniors or volunteering are two great ways to make and maintain friendships; considering a move to a retirement community is another way to boost friendships, both new and current.
Newcomers to senior living residences often find that they not only have many more opportunities to meet people with the same interests, they also find seeing their old friends becomes easier. Not having to worry about cooking, cleaning or maintaining a home gives them more time to enjoy life—including the wonderful friends they’ve built up over the years.