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How your childhood friends influence your happiness

Jennifer and I met in our first year of high school. While I don’t remember the exact moment we became friends, I do know it involved one of us (OK, me) scribbling our love for a boy band (who shall remain nameless) on the class wall.

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Jennifer and I met in our first year of high school. While I don’t remember the exact moment we became friends, I do know it involved one of us (OK, me) scribbling our love for a boy band (who shall remain nameless) on the class wall.

Twenty seven years later, we’re still best friends and still love all things celebrity. And though it might seem shallow, discussing it has punctuated many more serious moments in our history together and our friendship is a big part of who I am today.

As a new study shows, happiness in our adult years is built, in part, by the friendships we have as children and teens. The study’s lead researcher Craig Olsson, an associate professor with Australia’s Deakin University focused on happiness as it stemmed from our sense of coherence and connection, positive coping and prosocial values versus how well we did in school or the amount of money we had.     

Forming friendships helps children develop learning opportunities — to explore, test, compare and connect values, says Olsson. “And these ‘prosocial values’ are the glue of enduring positive relationships across the life course,” he adds. So, in turn, the friendships we build help us find ourselves.

Olsson adds that this take relies on a shift in how happiness is defined. “I stress in our research that we have not defined happiness in terms of material success, status and power,” he says. “Rather, happiness is defined in terms of meaning, relatedness and connection with others and the world around. What matters is that a deep human need for connection is achieved, which according to our research, has its developmental origins much more in healthy relationships than academic achievements over childhood and adolescence.”

But how exactly do these great friendships and social connections help create happiness in our adult lives? “We think values of care are the glue of enduring positive relationships across the life course,” Olsson adds. In other words the exploration required to figure out who we do and don’t want as friends helps further shape us as adults and sets the foundation for happiness. “Finding our own value systems that enable us to connect with others in caring and meaningful ways is possibly the most important thing we can do as a human being,” he says.  

Who knew that scribbling on a blackboard as a young girl would help to shape the happiness I have today?

Do you have many close friends from childhood?

Find out how many friends a woman really needs to be happy.

Want more happiness news? Follow me on Twitter @AstridVanDenB