Friends in Our Elder Years

The saying “Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.” by American journalist and writer Edna Buchanan highlights the importance of friends in our lives; they are on equal footing with our family.

But a recent researchi from Michigan State University suggests that they could be even more important.

The sea wolves of Scheveningen,
Stanisław Lentz, oil on canvas, 1903

Results from a pair of studies conducted by researcher William Chopik suggest that friendships become increasingly important to one’s happiness and health as one grows older. Not only that, in older adults, strain from friendships is a stronger predictor of chronic illnesses than relationships with family members.

One interesting finding of the research is that when older people said that their friends were a source of strain, they reported having more chronic illnesses. But the same cannot be said of older people who reported strain from their spouses and children. When friends or family were a source of support, older people were happier.

The study aptly demonstrates the link between close relationships, particularly in older adults, and health, happiness, and well-being. The researcher, however, admits that more research is needed to explore the mechanisms that give rise to the enhancing effects of close relationships and how these benefits are conferred and unfold over time.

Researchers are only now examining the details of how this link works, but it has been a well known principle recorded in the Bible.

Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice. — Proverbs 27:9

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. — Proverbs 18:24

Regardless of how this link works, it is well worth the effort to engage and invest in close relationships with friends, especially for older adults, for the benefits that it will bring.

iCHOPIK, W. J. (2017), Associations among relational values, support, health, and well-being across the adult lifespan. Pers Relationship, 24: 408–422. doi:10.1111/pere.12187

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