Friends are a Benefit

water-battle-636761_1280As I wrap up the 50 books in 50 weeks series it dawned on me today that there are two movies I referenced frequently, Dazed and Confused and Up In The Air. The first one is the homage to cruising, sort of the American Graffitti for the 1970s, but it’s filled with all sorts of coming of age questions. Up in the Air is the love letter to American Airlines and frequent flyers everywhere: George Clooney has one of the best lines any movie when he says “life is better with company.” Turns out he’s right.

When you think back to some of the most memorable events and experiences in your life you will notice that they have something in common: you shared them with someone (Rath, Harter 33).

My favorite Broadway musical is Rock of Ages. I have seen the play four times but on two of those occasions I had a date with me. One was my wife when we saw it here in Denver at the Buell, the second was my BFF who is a huge 80s rock fan and we saw it on Broadway just last month. In both of those times, I had a hell of a lot more fun then when I saw it by myself. When you’re with friends and family whatever you are doing is amplified. And so it was when my wife and I took a trip to Italy with our other BFF’s a few years back. We have good vacations when its just us, but the trip was so much better with company we enjoy.

Emotions spread quickly from one person to the next and we tend to synchronize our moods with the people around us (Rath, Harter 33). According to a Harvard study our well-being is dependent upon our entire network (Rath, Harter 34). The study also found that if a friend of your direct connection is happy the odds of your friend being happy increases by 15%. Even your friends friends friends can influence your well-being (Rath, Harter 34). So I guess its really important to not just surround yourself with good people but to surround yourself with people who are also surrounding themselves with good people.

Social connections influence our habits, behaviors, and health. When it comes to smoking, you’re 61% more likely to smoke if you have a direct connection with the smoker. At the second degree of separation you’re still 29% more likely to smoke and at the third degree 11% more likely to smoke (Rath, Harter 35). And according to the research, an increase of about $10,000 in annual income was associated with just a 2% increase in the likelihood of being happy, while having good friends and social connections is found to be a far more effective predictor of happiness (Rath, Harter 34-35) – I guess you can hit your friends up for a loan if you need one.

When I was in the Coast Guard’s Officer Candidate School I was also dealing with a lot of homesickness. Since I’d lived at home and went to an urban college without dorms, I had never really moved away from home and living in an apartment six miles from my folks house, with my girlfriend, didn’t really count. My first response was to pull inward and suffer in silence. Once I opened myself up to the friends and the camaraderie the experience not only got easier, it actually became fun. Yes folks, FUN in military boot camp. I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed harder in my life than some of the evenings that we spent in the “sweatshop,” (where we polished shoes, brass and ironed clothes together every night) with a couple of the funniest guys I’ve ever met — thank you Dennis Branson and Greg Hughes. No matter what the training cadre put us through, these guys could turn it into a standup comedy routine.

Our diets and exercise mimic those of our friends. If a friend of yours becomes obese it increases your chances of being obese by 57% (Rath, Harter 36-37). Even if a relative is obese that only boosts your chances by 40%. While that’s still a large number, it goes to show that we are more influenced by our friends that our family. Further, relationships are a buffer during tough times. The people at Alcoholics Anonymous know this – that’s why there is a sponsor program.

The data suggests that to have a thriving day we need at least six hours of social time (Rath, Harter 39). What’s that? The sounds of manager’s everywhere falling onto the floor? Understand this does not mean six hours at the bar with your drinking buddies or six hours walking around the office. The social time can be spread throughout the day and can include emails, watercooler conversation, telephone calls (you remember those, don’t you) and even social media. Being social may even help stave off the effects of old age:

“A study of more than 15,000 people over the age of 50 found that among those who were socially active, their memories declined at less than half the rate as compared to those who were the least social,” (Rath, Harter 40).

It turns out that we all need friends and they need us.

  • The extensive studies conducted by Gallup show the value of friendships in the workplace and revealed that those who have a best friend in the workplace are 7 times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, and they produce a higher quality of work (Rath, Harter 40-41)
  • Social well-being starts with having at least one close friendship. Each additional close friendship you have contributes even more to your life and daily experiences (Rath, Harter 42). While you need one close friendship you also need more than that; you cannot expect one person to fulfill all of your social needs, you’re just setting yourself up for failure (Rath, Harter 43).
  • In several of the books I have read this year on business and management, it is those organizations were not restricting access to Facebook and other social connections that are earning all the profits and creating amazing workplaces. The most progressive organizations realize how technology enables not just work-related tasks but also helps workers stay connected, while tapping into a vast resource of expertise (Rath, Harter 42).

When the Internet first started to spread through the workplace I was approached by the information-technology team where I worked. They advised me that they could give me reports on my employees’ Internet activity so I can find out if they were doing their job. I told them I did not have time to read them and frankly I did not care if they were spending a little bit of time surfing the web as long as the work got done – I knew if they were working because s$!# was getting done. If it wasn’t I didn’t care if it was because of the Internet or sleeping under their desk. Allowing them outside access, without restricting their social interactions (legal ones of course), encouraged the staff to go beyond the knowledge base of our other airport staffers and tap into a huge knowledgebase of airport personnel across the country. This helped us solve a lot of problems and take advantage of a lot of opportunities.

In the future it is the smart person and smart business that will understand the need for powerful social connections. And besides, at the end of the day, I hear it sucks to die alone.

Rath, Tom, and James K. Harter. Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. New York: Gallup, 2010. Print.

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