If you want to be happy for a day, eat a good meal. If you want to be happy for a month, fall in love. If you want to be happy for a year, get married. If you want to be happy for a lifetime, make a friend!

Friendships are wonderful–but they aren’t so simple.

Let us explain how friendship affects you.

science of friendship

1. Friends Kill Your Pain

Literally! Having a solid group of friends actually increases your pain tolerance. It all has to do with endorphins. Endorphins are our body’s natural painkillers, they’re a part of our pleasure and pain circuits in our brain and they promote bonding. It is theorized that social interactions trigger endorphin release in the brain, lending to the “feel-good” positive emotions and happiness when we see our friends. We link this strong, feel-good effect with the fact that endorphins are powerful painkillers to believe that having close friendships may actually prove to be more effective than morphine effects when in pain.

Not only do larger social circles lead to higher pain tolerance, but they have also been associated with helping people better manage their stress and be less stressed to begin with. Oh, the benefits of friendship!

2. Keeping up with Friends is a Sign of a Healthy Mind

Researchers took a look at social lives of the elderly and noticed a very important finding. Changes in their social lives, such as smaller and interconnected social networks, less social (and instead, more family) support and dwindling community event attendance were classified as evidence for cognitive decline. As cognition becomes more impaired, people can’t keep up with their usual circle of friends anymore and instead receive social support from family members or just withdraw from their community.  

A positive find in this study was that men who were classified with mild cognitive impairment or dementia reported that with their diagnoses, they felt even more encouragement and support from their spouses. Additionally, men started to socialize 15% more than before.

That being said, maintaining friend groups keeps your mind young and fresh, and their support can actually benefit you more if you start on a mental decline as you age!

We’re saying that friendship is great for your body AND your mind. Now here comes the downside…

3. Reciprocal Friendship?

Apparently, not as many as you think you do. A study by Tel Aviv University recently discovered that only 50% of friendships are actually bi-directional, compared to the 95% of those who thought their friendships were fully reciprocated. What does this mean? We are actually bad at judging our friendships.

Having reciprocal frienships is very important to one’s social influence. If our “friend” doesn’t consider us to be their friend, we have no influence over them — however, if our friends do consider us to be their friend, each person has higher social influence. People are far more motivated by friendship than they are by money for social influence.

In short, choose your friends wisely! Once you find “your people”, they’ll be there through better or for worse, through the thick and thin, through the pain and aging. They’ll be your friends for life.

Wondering how to make more friends as an adult? No worries! I’ve got you covered:

Bonus: How to Make Friends

Hi, I'm Vanessa!

Hi, I'm Vanessa!

Lead Investigator, Science of People

I'm the author of the national bestselling book Captivate, creator of People School, and human behavioral investigator in our lab.

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