Can friends have no effect on happiness? Do we really know our friends? Does money facilitate even the closest of friendships?

Time for another deeper dive. It’s been a while. Before I’ve explored politics not once but twice, who you should marry, the magic power of the color of red, if women are more risk averse than men, discrimination and what you should do after you commit a murder.

So what about friendship?

Hardly a shocker, friendship is key to our happiness and quality is better than quantity:

Relying on the theoretical model of [Lyubomirsky et al. 2005, Review of General Psychology, 9, pp. 111-131], the present study investigated the relationship between personality, number of friends, best friendship quality and happiness among 423 young adults (n = 300 women). The main interest was to examine whether friendship contributed to happiness while controlling for personality. Friendship variables accounted for 58% of the variance in happiness. Results revealed that friendship quality predicted happiness above and beyond the influence of personality and number of friends, but friendship conflict was not a significant predictor. Additional analyses revealed that the companionship and self-validation features of friendship quality were predictive of happiness while controlling for gender and personality. The findings were discussed in the light of theory and empirical research and suggestions were made for future research.

Source: “I am so Happy ‘Cause Today I Found My Friend: Friendship and Personality as Predictors of Happiness” from Journal of Happiness Studies, Volume 8, Number 2, June 2007 , pp. 181-211(31)

Well for adults, that is. If they’re happy in their romantic relationships, friends might not be that important at all to the happiness of young people:

The present investigation examined the role of multiple close relationships (mother, father, best friend, and romantic partner, if any) in happiness among emerging adults with and without a romantic partner. The results for those without a partner (n = 152) revealed that only the relationship experiences with mother and best friend were predictive of happiness. On the other hand, the findings for those with a partner (n = 159) showed that only three factors, namely mother–child relationship quality, romantic relationship quality and conflict were predictive of happiness. The results for this group also suggested that romantic relationship quality was protective of best friendship conflict; moreover, best friendship quality did not buffer the negative impact of romantic partner conflict on happiness, suggesting a less important role of best friends in happiness. In other words, the findings suggest that when emerging adults are involved in a romantic relationship, friends’ importance in happiness might be less pronounced or not pronounced at all. The results were discussed in light of the literature and suggestions were made for future research.

Source: “Close Relationships and Happiness Among Emerging Adults” from Journal of Happiness Studies

In some ways we might be kinder to our friends than our families:

Psychologist Lidewij Niezink…concluded that when we help friends in need, we are prompted by feelings of empathy, and that when we help relatives we do so because we have expectations of reciprocity.


On the other hand, many of us compete with our friends (especially guys), and it’s not a good thing:

Though ubiquitous in American life, competition has been neglected in studies of friendship. Conceiving of interpersonal competition as a dyadic process motivated by self-evaluation, the authors analyzed survey data from a random sample of 162 undergraduates at a US college who were asked about their closest friends of the same and opposite sex. Results indicated that male friendship dyads were most competitive followed by cross-sex and female dyads. Among same-sex friends, competition was negatively associated with academic class and positively associated with number of role relationships. Intimacy and companionship had positive effects and competition and conflict had negative effects on friendship satisfaction. Due to lower intimacy and greater competition in male friendships, men were less satisfied with same-sex friends than women.

Source: “Interpersonal Competition in Friendships” from the journal “Sex Roles”

And you don’t know your friends nearly as well as you think you do:

The figure below shows that people consistently overestimate the likelihood that their friends agree with them on political issues. Notably, even though close friends (so-called strong ties[1]) are in reality more likely to agree with one another than distant friends, people do not appropriately adjust their perceptions. In other words, though we think close and distant friends are about equally likely to agree with us on political issues, in reality we are much more likely to agree with close friends.
Inferring friends’ attitudes is further complicated by the fact that political positions tend to be only weakly correlated across issues. For example, according to the 2008 General Social Survey, 65% of people who support abortion rights also support capital punishment, compared to 68% among those who oppose abortions. That is, someone’s position on abortion tells you nearly nothing about their view on capital punishment.

But for young people that doesn’t matter much because:

…research revealed that the image young people have of their friends is more important than the actual character of these friends.

Friends influence boys and girls powerfully but differently:

He discovered that the criminal behaviour of boys often increases if they have criminal friends. Yet that was absolutely not the case with girls. They could, however, experience other harm from friendships: they run a greater risk of becoming depressive if they experience a low quality of friendship. Boys, however, are scarcely affected by this.

What facilitates close friendships? Sorry, it’s not always as noble as you might think. Money, status, education and plain old proximity all make a big difference:

This study uses data from a national probability sample in Taiwan to investigate sociable resources’ effect on the practices of close relationships with relatives and friends. Results indicate that status-based sociable resources (i.e., education, income and having a job) and assets-based sociable resources (i.e., length of residence and home ownership) facilitate close relationships. While the status-based resources tend to forge close relationships that are extralocal, the asset-based resources enhance those relationships that are local. Sociable resources influence frequency of contacts with intimate relatives and friends, but proximity represents the most important cause. Results support a structural perspective that emphasizes the importance of the sociable resources in facilitating close relationships.

Source: “Sociable resources and close relationships: Intimate relatives and friends in Taiwan” from Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Vol. 23, No. 1, 151-169 (2006)

This is one of my favorite movies about friendship.

Digests of posts:

Things you didn’t know about sex

Things you didn’t know about happiness

How to quickly and easily improve your life

Things you didn’t know about sports

Things you didn’t know about lies, liars and detecting lies

Things you didn’t know about negotiation, persuasion and influence

Things you didn’t know about marriage and relationships

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