How healthy are your friendships? The answer will have a huge impact on your retirement. Research shows that friends (or lack thereof) can affect your health, happiness and even your habits. Let’s look at the findings, examine some of the challenges your friendships will face as you age and discuss a few ways to make and maintain friendships during retirement.
How Friends Affect Us
According to the Mayo Clinic, friendships can affect your health and happiness in a number of important ways:
- They provide support in tough times.
- They help you find belonging and purpose
- They reduce your stress and increase happiness
- They give self-confidence and self-worth
- They can help you through difficult times like death, divorce, illness or job loss
- They provide accountability and positive peer pressure
- They help reduce the risk of things like depression, high blood pressure and unhealthy BMI.
In addition to the benefits above, friendships can help keep your mind sharp. Several studies have found that there is a strong connection between loneliness and cognitive decline. For example, a 2018 study in the Journals of Gerontology found that loneliness was associated with a 40% increase in dementia among study participants. In another study, researchers in the Netherlands found that people who feel lonely are about 1.6 times more likely to get dementia.
There’s also evidence that the importance of friendships increases as we age. Dr. William Chopik at Michigan State University conducted a study on how our relationships affect our health and happiness as we age. The results showed that the benefits we get from healthy family relationships stays level throughout life, but the value of good friendships has a greater impact on our health and happiness as we age. According to Dr. Chopik:
“Friendship quality often predicts health more so than the quality of other relationships.”
The Problem + The Solution
So the benefits of friends are huge, but there’s a problem. Making and maintaining quality friendships gets harder as you age. In mid-life you have competing priorities like kids and work. As you age, caring for your parents often gets added to the list. And life isn’t static. Circumstances change and friendships ebb and flow. Major life events—death, divorce, job loss, moving and retirement—can derail even the best of friendships. So if you want to enter retirement with good friends that have a positive impact on your health, happiness and cognitive function, you need to be intentional.
That means investing time, effort and often money into your friendships. It means being kind, likeable and trustworthy. It means listening and being transparent. It means being reliable and available. It means celebrating victories and being there when life is challenging. It means being loyal and avoiding drama. It means being proactive about spending time together. All those things have a compounding effect over time. They deepen friendships and give them a solid foundation. And as we saw earlier, those deep friendships take on added meaning as you age.
A Few Practical Applications
The primary takeaway is this: Don’t underestimate the power of friends. They can make or break your retirement. Start working on them now. If you’re looking for a good place to begin, forward this article to one or two of your friends and start a conversation. Ask how you can be a better friend. Plan an adventure or fun outing. Start a new tradition. Discuss ways to deepen your friendship. Compare retirement plans and make sure they overlap in ways that will allow you to maintain your friendship. All of this takes effort, but it’s worth it. The payoff is a healthier, happier life for both you and those you care about.