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Are friends better for us than family?

Friendship gets stronger with age and may even be more important than family relationships, according to research by a Michigan State University scholar.

In a pair of studies involving nearly 280,000people, William Chopik found that while friendships become increasingly important to one’s happiness and health across the lifespan.

“Friendships become even more important as we age. Keeping a few really good friends around can make a world of difference for our health and well-being. So it’s smart to invest in the friendships that make you happiest,” said the Psychology Assistant Professor.

For the first study, Professor Chopik analysed survey information about relationships and self-rated health and happiness from 271,053 participants of all ages from nearly 100 countries. The second study looked at data from a separate survey about relationship support/strain and chronic illness from 7,481 older adults in the United States.

According to the first study, both family and friend relationships were linked to better health and happiness overall, but only friendships became a stronger predictor of health and happiness at advanced ages.

The second study also showed that friendships were very influential – when friends were the source of strain, participants reported more chronic illnesses; when friends were the source of support, participants were happier.

Family relationships are often enjoyable too, the Professor said, but sometimes they involve serious, negative and monotonous interactions.

“Friendships help us stave off loneliness but are often harder to maintain across the lifespan,” he said. “If a friendship has survived the test of time, you know it must be a good one – a person you turn to for help and advice often and a person you wanted in your life,” he said.

The study appears online in the journal Personal Relationships.

Suggestions for developing friendships include:

  • Join a book club. Local bookshops, libraries and community centres often run book clubs or you could create one in your community.
  • Check out your local community connections by visiting the local council community board, library, community centre, church or charity for groups which peak your interest, or join community Facebook groups by entering the suburb in the search bar to seek out local events. These can be advertised in local cafes. Nabo often has local hubs to connect with neighbours and activities, while Meet Up provides social networking in like-minded interest areas, although sometimes there is a charge.
  • Volunteer is a great way to use spare time and make friends. Look for organisations that provide training and ongoing support. Go to com.au for opportunities, some requiring specific skills, some for one-off events and other for ongoing purposes, including volunteering at COTA Victoria.
  • Going outside for a walk can help you get to know your neighbourhood and say hello to people. Head to the park if you have a dog and strike up a conversation. You never know where it might lead.
  • Join a class. There’s no shortage of both free and paid classes available all over the country. Want to perfect your French? Cook great pasta or master that IPad. Look at Adult Learning Australia , libraries, community groups, organisations you pay such as or School of Life and and organisations where you can learn or teach, such as Laneway Learning  or Meet Up.

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