Friends And Happiness: Quantity At 20, Quality At 30

What role do our friends play in bringing us happiness?

We do not know too much about what happiness is, but what does seem to be certain is that it is closely related to the emotional ties we have with other people. Except in the minds of a few philosophers, happiness is basically found in life in common with others, in the image of ourselves that other people reflect on us and in personal projects that only exist because we all live in society.

Now … how can we modulate our social life to bring us closer to happiness? According to a study published in the journal Psychology and Aging , one of the keys to being happy when you reach maturity is having many friends in your 20s and good friends in your 30s.

An investigation that has lasted three decades

This research has lasted 30 years and was started in the 1970s, when 222 young people were asked to record in a diary all interactions (and certain characteristics of these, such as the degree of intimacy and their subjective appreciation of what gratifying of these) that they kept with other people for two weeks. Ten years later, these same participants would fill out the same type of diary again, in order to have two categories of data to compare with each other.

The researchers wanted to see to what extent the social networks woven during early adulthood influenced the quality and strength of the social relationships that are achieved when reaching maturity. They started from the assumption that during late youth the social life of consolidated adulthood is focused, something that directly influences the happiness of each one.

That is why, when these people reached around 50 years of age, the research team contacted 133 of them again to answer a series of questions related to their social relationships, the roles they played, the number of interactions they performed. that used to happen. They also answered items related to their perception of their own quality of life and psychological well-being.

Go from flower to flower at 20, focus at 30

After a statistical analysis of the data, the research team found that the amount of social interactions at 20, and not the quality of these, was associated with greater well-being when they reached 50 years of age. People in their twenties who had a very active and busy social life tended to reach their 50s feeling less lonely, less depressed, with a greater sense of autonomy and, in general, obtaining positive scores on items related to quality of life.

At age 30, however, a large number of social relationships did not serve to predict a better quality of life decades later.

Why is this happening?

There is a possibility that this is because what is expected of social life and friendship changes as one grows.

Early youth is a time when you tend to want to experience many things, experience many emotions, and consequently have more numerous and varied social interactions. This is something that makes learning possible during an age when it is very important to know how things work and when important life projects have not yet been fully established.

At the age of thirty, however, this need for variety has already disappeared and those types of interactions that better fit with more established tastes and preferences are valued more. You begin to be more demanding and selective, and this also translates into social life, since coming into contact with many people of all kinds could become a form of “distraction”.

From “anything goes” to “I don’t have time”

The conclusion drawn by these researchers can be illustrated as a breadth of view towards social life that narrows over the years to finally focus on those types of interactions that we have learned are beneficial and provide us with well-being. to a greater degree than the rest. 

However, this is not the only possible explanation, since it could also be that the Western model of life rewards those people who have more free time at 20 years than at 30, although this is a hypothesis that would have to be put tested in another investigation.

In any case, this study serves to confirm that throughout our lives we change at many levels, both individually and socially, and that this has consequences on our psychological well-being. Research in this sense can help us to be more informed about what life strategies can bring us closer to happiness when we reach full adulthood … if by then we have already learned what being happy consists of.

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