Thursday, August 12, 2010

Friends Make Life Happier – and Healthier

It’s hardly a revelation that good relationships make for a happy life. But, according to researchers at Brigham Young University, friends also help us live longer, healthier lives. In fact, those who have strong relationships with their friends are 50 percent less likely to die early.

As Reuters reports, “Having low levels of social interaction was equivalent to being an alcoholic, was more harmful than not exercising and was twice as harmful as obesity.”

So friendship is healthy, even though it’s becoming less common. At least that’s what Duke University researchers recently found. It turns out that Americans are becoming more and more socially isolated. The Duke study found that a staggering 25 percent of Americans have no close social relations at all. That’s up from 10 percent in 1985. And fully half of all Americans have no close relationships outside of their immediate family.

So, even though social networks like Facebook have enabled us to stay connected to friends, it appears that this virtual connection hasn’t contributed much to good old-fashioned social connection.

Those work-a-holics among us should take note. In my line of work especially, long hours, late nights and weekends at the office aren’t uncommon. Many of us are sure to make time for exercise, but, often, spending time with friends is a low priority, especially when we’re up against a deadline or overloaded with work. This is a mistake. Spending time with friends should be a must-do activity.

Many believe that finding a proper balance between work and life is the key to forming healthy relationships, but I’ve always taken a different tack. For me, it’s about work/life integration. Instead of simply carving out time to be in “non-work mode” I find ways to make my work my life. This can be done in many different ways. On one level, it means creating a career that is full of activities that you find meaningful and pleasurable.

But work/life integration is also about making sure your personal relationships are as important as your professional relationships. Business meetings and personal meetings are both high priorities for me. Just as I would do anything to avoid canceling a meeting with a client, the same is true for appointments to have dinner with old friends.

The truth is, meaningful relationships don’t just happen automatically. They take just as much care and determination as successful careers do.