Close friends hold the key to your health and happiness - South China Morning Post



Close friends hold the key to your health and happiness

Your well-being is not only about exercise and diet, but also friendship.

In 1938, Harvard scientists launched a programme to track the lives of a group of young men, hoping to discover the secret to leading healthy and happy lives.

Summing up the decades-long study in 2015, Robert Waldinger, the programme's director, said that close relationships, more than money or fame, help delay mental and physical decline.

However, with the rise of social media and smartphones, as well as the pandemic, interpersonal relationships have suffered.

In the United States, a survey found that the share of people saying they have no close friends increased from 3 per cent in 1990 to 12 per cent in 2021. Similarly, 58 per cent of Britons reported having no more than 10 friends in a 2021 study; 7 per cent said they did not have close friends.

Friends are not easy to make, and time is an important input. Research by the University of Kansas estimated that it takes around 50 hours to form a casual friendship, 90 hours to go from casual friends to friends, and over 200 hours to become close friends.

Further, middle-aged people need to work harder to manage friendships because social circles start shrinking when people are in their mid-20s, according to a 2016 study.

So how do you keep friendships going? One way is to meet more frequently. If you follow the 200 hours rule, a meal generally takes two to three hours – that's about 70 meals, at least, and if you meet twice a month, it takes about three years to develop a close friendship.

In Hong Kong, residents' mental health was found to be unsatisfactory for the last five consecutive years. Meanwhile, according to official UK figures, more than 123,000 people – probably including your loved ones – have arrived in the United Kingdom through the British National (Overseas) route. Even though social media gives you a feeling of proximity, you can't cry on a shoulder that is geographically distant.

The weekend is here. Instead of staying glued to your mobile phone at home, may I suggest you gather your friends. This not only provides fun and comfort, but you will also help improve each other's mental health.



Dr. Winnie Tang
Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong