Our well-being and happiness is linked to an extensive network of relationships.
In a recently published U.S. News article, several social science researchers were tapped for their thoughts how our social networks — our relationships with family, close friends, and even people we don’t know — can impact our well-being.
Sheldon Cohen, a relationship researcher and psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University, says that our social ties can predict our cognitive abilities (later in life), our tendency to succumb to illness, and even how quickly we may recover from it. In one of his research experiments, healthy people were exposed to a cold virus. When a third of the subjects fell ill, Cohen discovered that the level of their social ties was a good predictor of who was likely to stay healthy.
The number of social networks, even those that don’t offer you a positive experience, are related to an improvement in your health, according to Cohen. “There’s just something about having these many social roles that is good for you, and the more you have, the better it is.”
Karen Fingerman, professor of Human Development and Family Science at the University of Texas, believes there are benefits to having casual acquaintances. “The intimate ties give you a lot of emotional support, whereas your peripheral ties may help you with new information and diversions.” Finding a new job, says Fingerman, can often happen by way of weaker social connections.
Researchers Nicholas Christakis (Harvard) and James Fowler (University of California at San Diego), co-authors of the book, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, found that our social networks have “three degrees of influence” on our happiness.
The happiness of a close contact increases your chance of being happy by 15 percent. The happiness of a second degree contact (e.g. a friend’s spouse) increases it by 10%, and the happiness of a third degree contact (e.g. friend of a friend of a friend) can increase your happiness by 6%.
In sum, Cohen believes that successful networks offer three types of benefits:
- social integration: being plugged into events, trends, and experiences beyond those that directly involve you
- social support: provided to one another by network members
- a buffer from negative events
Are your social networks bringing you happiness?
(image courtesy of Tasha Bock, James H. Fowler, Nicholas A. Christakis)