When it comes to women’s happiness, there’s nothing more likely to put a spring in your step than friendship.
The research is overwhelming. Friends directly influence your stress levels, sleep habits, weight, health and even your long-term survival. Scientists and philosophers agree: social connections are the single greatest contributor to reaching that state of bliss.
Pals, as it turns out, are vital to every phase of life. Sure, you probably remember your grade school BFF, the attached-at-the-hip classmate with whom you traded secrets and friendship bracelets. But a 2010 Pew Research Center report found that retirees who are satisfied with their number of friends are nearly three times more likely to be happy than those who aren’t. Another study found that when compared to time spent with relatives, children, colleagues or even a spouse, adults rank time spent with friends as the most enjoyable.
And yet, the time when we need friends most—the years when our identities might shift from “single girl in the city” to “wife and mom taking care of everyone else”—is the very stage when it’s hardest to hold onto those relationships.
Researchers say that between the ages of 25 and 40, female friendships are most at risk. To any woman who has ever tried to hold a job, raise a child, and maintain a marriage, this news comes as no surprise. These are the years when we establish who we will be and what our lives will become; we’re so focused on climbing the career ladder and building a happy home that taking time for—gasp!—fun with friends feels like a selfish indulgence.
As it turns out, the opposite is true. Keeping up independent friendships is one of the best things you can do for both your marriage and your career. But my spouse is my best friend, you may be thinking. And while it’s a sweet sentiment, it comes with some dangers. Sociologists use the term “cocooning” to refer to couples who spend all their time together at the expense of outside friendships. In the short term, cocooning increases closeness in a marriage. Over the years, however, it places unnecessary burdens on the relationship, increasing the likelihood of loneliness and divorce.
And in the office? According to Gallup research, having a work BFF is one of the best things you can do for your career. That single friendship will make you seven times more engaged in your job, thereby increasing your value as an employee. People with at least three friends at work are a whopping 96 percent more likely report being “extremely satisfied with their lives,” though only two out of 10 people report spending time with coworkers outside of the office.
Sure, finding time to spend with friends can be tough when date nights, rides to soccer practice, conference calls and a never-ending to-do list are all vying for your attention. But girl talk shouldn’t be considered a superfluous extra, something attended to only if there’s time. Resolve today to make time for pals. It might be the best thing you can do to make this year your happiest yet.
3 Tips for Finding Time For Friends
Make it a standing appointment. Friends are as important to your health as your weekly trainer date, so treat it as such. Pencil monthly brunches or weekly mani-pedis into your schedule for months at a time—it’ll take the work out of trying to find time for get-togethers.
Join a club. Or start one. Research shows that being a part of a group that meets just once a month will give you the same increase in happiness as doubling your salary. Start a book club, a knitting group, a recipe swap—whatever interests you.
Turn your solo activities into friend-date opportunities. Do you go for a run every morning? Why not bring a buddy along? Or run those lunchtime errands with your best friend from work. Time with gal pals doesn’t have to revolve around a meal, or take hours at a time. Make it work with your schedule.
Rachel Bertsche is the author of “MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New