Debate of the WEEK: Should we spend more time with our friends?
IN THE NEWS: Good relationships are the secret to happiness, say scientists. But more and more people today are spending the majority of their time alone.
“Lumberjacks know the secret of happiness”. It is a bold claim. But according to a survey by the Bureau of Labour Statistics, lumberjacks are some of the happiest people in the USA. They suggest that this is all down to the mixture of physical exertion and being in the great outdoors.
Now, a new book claims to have cracked the formula for happiness. Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz, authors of The Good Life, looked at the findings from the longest study of human happiness ever conducted — the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which started in 1938 with 724 participants and is still running today.
The study found that relationships are more important than career success, finances or fame. The people in the study who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.
It is a theme that is reflected in the media we consume. Films and television shows about friendship remain hugely popular, from the 1990s sitcom Friends to the hit 2022 film The Banshees of Inisherin, which charts the breakdown of the relationship between Irish friends Padraic and Colm.
Yet despite our desire for friendship, a huge number of people worldwide are lonely. Forty-five percent of people report that they often feel lonely, with the loneliest group being 16-to-24-year-olds. In 2018, the average American spent 11 hours every day on solitary activities.
Meanwhile, experts warn that “social” media is making the problem worse. Today, 34% of young people with symptoms of depression use social media “almost constantly”. Researchers have found that the psychological wellbeing of adolescents worldwide began to decline after 2012 — the time, perhaps not coincidentally, when access to smartphones and internet usage increased.
The situation is clear, say scientists. Today, we know that relationships are vital to happiness and wellbeing. We also know that many people ignore them, instead spending time on solitary activities, both online and offline.
Perhaps then it is the time, as the director of the Harvard study suggests, to replace screen time with people time.
Spending time with friends can be beneficial for a person’s wellbeing, as it can provide social support, companionship and a sense of belonging.
We are the most connected generation ever. The wonder of technology means we are now never more than a message away from connecting with friends.
The quality of the relationship is more important than the quantity of time spent with friends. And it is important to maintain a balance between time spent on friendships and time spent on family, work and self-care.
Lumberjacks-A lumberjack is someone who cuts down trees professionally