You don't need countless studies to show that most people are at their happiest when they have great relationships with other people.

But what might surprise you is that research shows the more you use Facebook to maintain personal relationships, the worse you tend to feel. And the more you engage in your "real world" social networks, the better you feel.

At first glance, that makes little sense. Interactions are interactions, right? 

Nope. 

"Exposure to the carefully curated images from others' lives," the researchers say, "leads to negative self-comparison, and the sheer quantity of social media interaction may detract from more meaningful real-life experiences."

Or in non researcher-speak, your life feels like it pales in comparison to other people's "Instagrammed lives"... and any time you spend seeing only the things other people want you to see takes away from time you could spend having real -- not virtual -- interactions and relationships.

In short, hanging out with your friends at a game will make you a lot happier than sitting alone on your couch as you scroll through your Facebook feed to see what your "friends" are doing.

"These results were particularly strong for mental health," the researchers say. "Most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year. We found consistently that both liking others' content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction." (My bold.)

Of course that's probably true for other social networks -- even those we use for "professional" purposes. It's easy to use, say, LinkedIn to build a professional network of partners, customers, employees, connections, etc, because (hopefully) there will be a payoff. 

But how often do your LinkedIn connections come through? At least for me, it's the other way around: I probably get 100 requests for help for every offer of assistance I receive. (Which doesn't feel particularly good.)

But my real professional friends? They frequently offer suggestions. Or help. Or to connect me with someone who can help me. (Just like I do for them.)

Real professional friends are not just more valuable than social network professional friends, they also make me feel better about myself. They make me feel valued. They make me feel appreciated. Yep: They make me happy.

The same holds true for making friend friends: Increasing your number of real friends correlates to higher subjective well being. In fact, doubling your number of real friends is like increasing your income by 50 percent in terms of how happy you feel.

And if that's not enough, people who don't have strong social relationships are 50 percent less likely to survive at any given time than those who do. (Which is a scary thought for people who are relatively shy, like me.)

Making 50 more Facebook friends? That's just more people to engage with... which means you'll spend more time on Facebook... which, according to research, means you'll wind up feeling worse.

But making even just 1 or 2 more real friends? Research shows that will make a huge difference in how happy you feel.

So does proximity. According to other research, making friends with people who live near you -- the sweet spot is a happy friend who lives a mile away -- can make a huge difference on your level of happiness.

The Framingham Heart Study, a multigenerational study on happiness, tracked three generations to discover trends in the way happiness moves among a population.

What did they find?

  • Individual happiness cascades through groups of people. (Yep: Happiness has a waterfall effect.)
  • The more happy people you add to your life, the greater positive effect it has on you.
  • Geographically close friends (and neighbors) have the greatest effect on happiness.

Researchers then broke down the happiness effect on the basis of a participant's relationship to others and their proximity to each other.

Here's the ranking, from greatest impact on happiness to least:

  1. Nearby mutual friends (far and away the winner; the probability of increasing happiness was 148 percent)
  2. Next-door neighbor
  3. Nearby perceived friend (a person the participant named as a friend, but the "friend" did not perceive as a friend -- which means as long as I think you're my friend, I'm happier)
  4. Nearby friend-perceived friend (a person the participant did not name as a friend, but who claimed to be a friend of the participant -- which means that even though I might not consider you a friend, the fact you're in my life makes me happier)
  5. Nearby sibling
  6. Distant sibling
  7. Same-block neighbor
  8. Distant friend

Proximity of nearby mutual friends, according to the study, included those who lived within one mile of the participant. Others fell into the "distant friend" category.

All of which means that having distant friends is fine -- but the closer your friends are to where you live, the better.

And since Facebook friends might as well be a million miles away... science says spend less time on your social network friends, and a lot more on your real friends.

You'll definitely be happier -- and your life will be richer and more active.

Can't beat that.

Published on: Oct 10, 2018
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