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Want Happiness At 50? Be A Social Butterfly At 20, Keep Friends Close At 30

(Seranya Photography/Flickr)

(Seranya Photography/Flickr)

By Marina Renton
CommonHealth Intern

What’s the key to happiness in middle age? Be a social butterfly when you’re 20 and keep your friends close at 30. That’s according to a new study looking at the health impacts of social networks over decades.

Researchers at the University of Rochester found that because our social goals change over time, a high quantity of social interactions at age 20 and a high quality of interactions at age 30 was associated with better social and psychological outcomes around age 50. The study appears in the journal Psychology and Aging.

A Pleasant Interaction? 

The study was 30 years in the making and began in the ’70s when college students were asked to keep a kind of diary where they logged all their social interactions over a two-week period. They recorded the length of their interactions, the level of intimacy and pleasantness, among other things. The diary method, officially called the Rochester Interaction Record, was designed to capture spontaneous social activity (think pre-Twitter). It was also an attempt to minimize “recall bias.”

Study co-author Cheryl Carmichael, an assistant professor of psychology at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, explained why the “diaries” were important: “If I asked somebody, ‘Hey, how’s your social life going these days?’ it could very easily be colored by whatever their morning or afternoon was like,” she said. For instance, your social life might seem bleak if you’ve just argued with your best friend, but if you’ve have it all written down, you can get a more accurate sense of a person’s true social life. Continue reading