Blood is thicker than water, but that doesn't mean our friendships should take a backseat to our family relationships as we grow up.
A new study has found that friendships can have a much greater impact on our overall health and happiness as we age than our families, suggesting that it's worth our while to invest in those relationships now, so they're with us for the long-haul.
"Friendships become even more important as we age," says psychologist William Chopik from 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."
To figure this out, Chopik analysed survey information about relationships and self-rated health and happiness from 271,053 participants across all age groups from nearly 100 countries around the world. He then compared the results to a separate survey about relationship support, relationship strain, and chronic illness, involving 7,481 older adults (median age 68) in the US.
The first survey revealed that, overall, those who valued both their family and friendship relationships enjoyed greater health and higher happiness. But among the older participants, valuing friendships became a stronger predictor of health and happiness than valuing family.
The second survey took this notion even further by revealing that friendships have a far greater influence on our physical and emotional state as we age than our family relationships.
Interestingly, family relationships with people other than spouses and immediate children were found to have little influence on an individual's health and well-being in older adulthood across both surveys.
The results do reflect what many of us have likely already experienced, even before we hit 'old age' - we benefit from our friends because we get to choose the ones who make us feel happiest, whereas family can often come with inescapable baggage and stress.
A network of good friends was linked to a 22 percent reduction in the risk of dying during the 10-year follow-up period of the study, when compared to close ties with children or relatives. So while studies like these can't predict your future as an individual, they do provide some pretty valuable life advice: don't put all your eggs in one basket. Your family will always be your blood, but the friendships you make now could end up being an invaluable investment for your health and happiness later.