Making Friends Takes a Lot of Energy. Is It Worth It?

12/04/2012 04:55 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2013

I hear from a lot of women that they simply feel like making friends cannot be a priority in their lives right now. Many mistakenly think that friendship is the thing to cut when their lives get busy, express feeling guilty for asking their husbands to watch the kids so they can go spend time with a girlfriend, or conclude that since friendships are not happening naturally in their lives that they somehow just need to learn to live without a circle of friends. Maybe you've been there before? Maybe you're there now?

You know the risks. You know the difficulty. You know the challenges. You know the excuses to say "no" and give up. You know how weary you feel. Give me a moment to remind you what you're investing in!

Energy Output: The Investment Can Be Exhausting

It's a paradox that the actions that take energy also tend to reward us with the most energy. In many life moments, higher investments lead to higher payoffs.

I mean, the very act of going to the gym is tiring for the vast majority of us, but the payoff is, ironically, more energy. Most of us don't sit at work feeling fulfilled by the daily tasks and mountains of emails, but the sum total of that output seems to create a sense of achievement and meaning. I know just on a recreation level that it would be easier and more comfortable to sit on my couch tonight watching TV, but that if I attend to my women's business group, I'll actually come home more rejuvenated than any show could provide. I've learned that most things in life aren't the easiest default option, but they do tend to be worth the investment. And friendship is simply one of those things -- less meaningful in the beginning and a greater source of energy output, but the payoff is exponential.

Energy Input: The Payoff Can Be Exponential

Gallup research discussed in the book Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements shows that there are five universal, interconnected elements that together reveal your overall well-being. Apparently, liking what you do every day (career wellbeing) is the most significant factor to your overall health and happiness, but guess what number two is? Yep, social wellbeing, also known as "Do you like who you're doing life with?"

While you have undoubtedly heard me quote all kinds of research about how important your circle of friends is to your life, the research just continues to inspire!

  • You're influenced by your entire network. Our wellbeing is impacted by our entire social network. Per research by Harvard, you are 6 percent more likely to be happy if your friend's friend's friend -- count them, three degrees removed! -- is happy. The reverse is just as true.
  • Friends impact more than money. Compare the above 6 percent increase to the 2 percent increase in happiness if your annual income goes up $10,000! "This led the study's authors (Nicholas Cristakis and James Fowler) to conclude that that the wellbeing of friends and relatives is a more effective predictor of happiness than earning more money."
  • Your health may be at stake. People with few social connections are at twice the risk of dying from heart disease or of catching a common cold (even though they're arguably exposed to fewer germs!).
  • Proximity matters. A friend who lives within a mile will have a way more positive influence than friends across the country. This is not only true when it comes to our happiness and mood, but also on our ability to recover from strokes and surgeries. (This is why -- the friendship matching site I founded -- advocates making local friends even though it's not as easy as picking up the phone to talk to your BFF in your hometown! It's worth it!)
  • Friendships are especially important in aging well. One study showed that in adults over the age of 50, subjects' memories declined at half the rate if they were socially active compared to those who were least social.
  • You need more than one BFF! Every additional close friendship adds to your wellbeing. "Our research has found that people who have at least three or four very close friendships are healthier, have higher wellbeing, and are more engaged in their jobs, " says Tom Rath, the co-author of Wellbeing, about his research published in Vital Friends: The People You Can't Afford to Live Without.
  • The more time invested, the happier you are. The data shows that to have a maximally thriving day in terms of happiness, you need six hours of daily social time! Six hours?! That surprised even me! Apparently, regardless of personality types and other variables, those who are thriving in life are reporting an average of six hours every day of connecting, which can include talking to friends, socializing at work, being on the phone, communicating on Facebook, etc. Across the board, every hour of social connection added to your day reportedly increases your happiness almost 10 percent! (Isn't it ironic how easy it is to cancel on a friend when we've a bad day or skip out on socializing when we're depressed, when in actuality, that very act of connecting will raise our spirits?)

I know it's tiring, I know. I know it's discouraging at times, I know.

But I also know that this is one investment that promises the biggest pay-off to your overall happiness and health. No small thing!

May you be reminded that your willingness to engage, to meet new people, to initiate the next get-together, to schedule women into your life and to foster these friendships over time is proving to raise your wellbeing! And don't we all want that?

All research listed in this blog can be found in the chapter on social wellbeing in Gallup's book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements by Tom Rath & Jim Harter. Purchasing their book provides a code for your access to take their Wellbeing Assessment.

For more by Shasta Nelson, M.Div., click here.

For more on conscious relationships, click here.