Why friendship trumps just about everything

Here is a summary of some stuff I’ve been reading about the link between friendship and happiness. Much of it is based on a book by Tom Rath called ‘Vital Friends’. The research cited in the book is based on 5 million interviews conducted by the Gallup Organization.


Suppose that life is like the ‘Tour de France’.

As a cyclist, there are three ways in which you can see the other cyclists…

1. Competition
You see everyone else as your competition. You do whatever you can to push others back while trying to propel yourself forward.

2. Road Block
You see everyone else as a road block. You are focused on winning and you don’t want anyone to get in your way.

3. Teammates
You see everyone else as your teammates. You do every thing you can to help others thrive, whilst at the same time relying on others for your own support.


Tom Rath, author of ‘Vital Friends’ says: “During our teenage years, we spend nearly one-third of our time with our friends. For the rest of our lives, the average time spent with friends is less than 10%”.

And although some might find this a little disappointing, very few realize how destructive it is. Rath goes onto say: “When we think consciously about improving our lives, we focus our development inward. We strive to be better human beings. We try to make ourselves better employees… (But) the real energy occurs in each connection between two people, which can bring about exponential returns”

Here is the evidence…


> The quality of your friendships is the best factor in determining your happiness and life satisfaction.

> The only difference between the top 10% of happiest people and everyone else is their rich and satisfying social lives.[2]


Friendship is the key to a great marriage…

> Friendship with your spouse accounts for 70% of overall marital satisfaction

> Friendship with your spouse is rated as more important than sex by 5 out of 6 couples


If you have a best friend at work, you will be…

> Seven times more likely to be engaged at work

> Have fewer accidents at work

> Be more engaged with customers at work

> Be more likely to be innovative and share new ideas at work

> Be 50% more satisfied at work


> The quality of your friendships has a significant effect on your physical health and longevity.

> If your best friend has a healthy diet, you are 5 times more likely to also have a healthy diet.

> In his book, ‘Everybody’s normal till you get to know them’, John Ortberg cites even further research on the link between friendship and health…

“One of the most thorough research projects on relationships is called the Alameda County Study. Headed by a Harvard social scientist, it tracked the lives of 7,000 people over nine years. Researchers found that the most isolated people were three times more likely to die than those with strong relational connections. People who had bad health habits (such as smoking, poor eating habits, obesity, or alcohol use) but strong social ties lived significantly longer than people who had great health habits but were isolated. In other words, it is better to eat Twinkies with good friends than to eat broccoli alone.

Harvard researcher Robert Putnam notes that if you belong to no groups but decide to join one, “you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half.” For another study, as reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 276 volunteers were infected with a virus that produces the common cold. The study found that people with strong emotional connections did four times better fighting off illness than those who were more isolated. These people were less susceptible to colds, had less virus, and produced significantly less mucous than relationally isolated subjects. (I’m not making this up. They produced less mucous. This means it is literally true: Unfriendly people are snottier than friendly people)”



The key to building friendships is to stop trying to get people to like you. People don’t want to become friends with a desperate person any more than they want to date a desperate person.

Rather, the goal is to make others feel valued. If you make others feel valued, they will like being around you.


One way to think about building relationships is to imagine that every person has a ‘love bank’.

Every time we invest in someone by affirming them, serving them, listening to them, or even buying gifts for them, it’s like we’re making a deposit into their account.

Every time take someone for granted, criticize them, be rude to them, ignore them, or display selfish behaviour towards them, it’s like we’re making a withdrawal.

So the goal is to make sure we are always depositing into other people’s accounts.

Some things to note…
> Research conducted by Gallup found that when it comes to affirming people, we need to affirm people five times as much as we criticize them just to break even. So every time you make a withdrawal, it’s as if $100 is taken out of their account. Every time you make a deposit, it’s as if only $20 was deposited.

> Many people also argue that you can’t stop making deposits. Relationships always require energy. Even if you are not making withdrawals, you might find that the person’s balance is going down. It’s as if there are bank changes every month, and we need to keep making deposits just to counterbalance those bank charges.

[1] Unless stated, all of this is taken from the book ‘Vital Friends’ which is based on a surveys of over 5 million people conducted by the Gallup Organization