Friends vs. Family: Which Relationships Make You Happier?


When it comes to relationships, there are two main categories into which most people fall: friends and family. These are two types of relationships that shape a person’s view of the world, as well as affect their emotional and mental health.

However, one may be cause for more happiness than the other.

Credit: Kleinefotografie/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

The Michigan State University has completed analysis of a survey conducted in nearly 300,000 respondents. The respondents were between the ages of 15 and 99, located in areas across the entire globe. In the United States, approximately 7,500 older adults over the age of 50 reported on their physical health in accordance with their relationships. According to these findings, holding friendships in high regard causes people more happiness than familial relationships.

The old saying goes, “you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family,” and the researchers involved in this study attribute the results to this reason. Choosing friendships that uplift and encourage rather than cause stress and tension can create long-term happiness and health. On the other hand, family relationships can lead to awkward encounters or monotonous interactions when ideals and opinions collide. Friendships often involve people of like mind, while family members may have different views.

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“Friendships become even more important as we age,” said William Chopik, assistant professor of Psychology at Michigan State University. “Keeping a few really good friends around can make a world of difference for our health and well-being. So it’s smart to invest in the friendships that make you happiest.”

The study found that stressful relationships can cause negative effects on a person’s physical health, even potentially leading to heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Stress is a major factor in the increased risk of these illnesses, and engaging in toxic relationships can cause this risk to increase further. As a person ages, they are less likely to keep friendships with anyone who does not make them happy, instead keeping the relationships that bring them joy and support them emotionally. This is linked to better overall health and happiness.

“Friendships help us stave off loneliness but are often harder to maintain across the lifespan,” said Chopik. “If a friendship has survived the test of time, you know it must be a good one – a person you turn to for help and advice often and a person you wanted in your life.”

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As more of these surveys and studies confirm, it is imperative that toxic relationships be removed from a person’s life in order to better promote long-term health. Regardless of whether or not it is a friend or family member, any stressful or negative relationship provides an increased risk of ill health.

Chopik went on to say, “There are now a few studies starting to show just how important friendships can be for older adults. Summaries of these studies show that friendships predict day-to-day happiness more and ultimately how long we’ll live, more so than spousal and family relationships.”