Too many Americans are chasing career success, making sacrifices for some professional or financial goal. Too often those sacrifices include less time with their families and less time with their friends. That is a massive mistake – a mistake that lowers their happiness and reduces their health. Surprise. Our survival depends more on our friendships than our work.
That importance of friendship has been demonstrated in numerous studies throughout the animal kingdom. Monkeys, chimpanzees, baboons, horses, hyenas, elephants, and dolphins create lifelong friendships; and that is only the beginning of the lengthy list. For almost all species, the greater the quality of the friendships, the better the health and the longer the longevity for the animal.
Rhesus monkeys with close friendships show reduced levels of stress hormones and improved health. Horses, when they are grooming each other, show slower heart rates. Baboons with close friendships are four times more likely to live to an older age. And those positive effects are noticed in most species – even dogs and cats with their owners.
With humans, friendship appears to lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, and improve the immune system. How strong is the effect of a close friendship? A lack of a close friendship is a health risk that is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. A lack of a close friendship is a health risk worse than obesity.
So, as we sacrifice to pursue our career accomplishments, we need to appreciate the importance of friendship for our health, our happiness, and our survival. Most of us need to place a greater emphasis on improving our friendships. We need to put more effort into strengthening those friendships.
Chimpanzees can give us a few pointers. The friendship between chimpanzees often appears unbalanced for months at a time. However, when tracked over a lifetime, their friendships become surprisingly balanced. For chimpanzees, what matters the most is a long-term nature of friendship, not short-term reciprocation. Apparently, their lifelong friendships are worth those periods of giving without immediately receiving.
Too many people expect a prompt response and a prompt reward for their acts of giving. Too many people want to be rewarded without any delayed gratification. That is the advantage of a long-term commitment to your friends. The individual who can make that mental shift toward long-term benefits has a greater chance of maintaining a lifelong friendship.
So, let’s start by NOT chasing the wrong “golden ring”, which is our career and our finances. Don’t expect a professional success to create sustained happiness for any of us. The true “golden ring” – our happiness – is the quality of our friendships. As Emily Dickinson once said, “My friends are my estate.” Truly, they will give us more happiness than anything else in life; and they will help keep us alive and healthy.
So, for this weekend, leave the work in the office …
Spend some extra time with family and friends …
It may just may save a life – yours.