As we get older our friends begin to have a bigger impact on our health and well-being, even more so than family, according to a new study.
Researchers led by William Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University, reviewed two surveys of approximately 280,000 people. They were questioned about relationships, happiness and health.
In the first study of 271,053 adults, valuing friendships was related to better functioning, particularly among older adults, whereas valuing familial relationships "exerted a static influence on health and well-being across the lifespan." In the second study of 7,481 older adults, only strain from friendships predicted more chronic illnesses over a six-year period.
If friendships last through older adulthood, "clearly these are good friendships," Chopick tells Health Day News, adding: "As we age, we prune away at some of the friendships that are more superficial and acquaintance-like" and are left "with the ones that are deeper and make us happy." The study reports that older participants identified only their friendships as reliably strong predictors of how happy and healthy they felt.
Chopik tells Time the power of friendship on physical and mental health often is ignored when researching older people, because familial relationships are frequently deemed more important for this age group. But family members typically become caregivers for the elderly, and that role can create a sense of obligation. While the relationships are still vital, Chopik says, they may not provide as much joy in an elderly person's life as long-term friends.