We’ve all been told that we should choose our friends wisely. We have somewhat of an idea that our friends are influential in our lives, but just how much influence do they have? What impact are they likely to have on our lives? In this article we explore some of the research on this topic and reveal three surprising ways those close to you can either help you succeed or prevent you from growing.

  1. Your closest friend could be the biggest danger to your health

The statement may sound a little sensational, but there is plenty of science to back it up. The prevalence of obesity has risen from 23% to 31% over the recent past in America with 66% of people considered overweight. In South Africa, up to 70% of woman and nearly 40% of men are considered overweight. The explanations for this obesity epidemic are societal changes that promote both inactivity and food consumption.

This epidemic can’t be explained by genetics and has occurred through all socio-economic groups, so how do we explain it? Is it possible that there might be a societal and environmental explanation? The landmark study conducted by the Framingham heart study and published in the New England journal of medicine, followed 12 067 people over a period of 32 years and yielded some astounding results.

 If you have a close friend that becomes obese, your chances of becoming obese increase by 57%. The importance of gender was massive too, with your chances of obesity jumping to 71% if those friends were the same sex. If your spouse is obese, you are 37% more likely to become obese yourself.

  1. The effects of social isolation can be deadly. Get out there and broaden your real – life social network.

Human beings are naturally social. The challenges and rigours of modern day, industrialised nations is, however, greatly reducing the quality and the quantity of our social interactions. In these countries, people no longer live with or near extended families. We often have family members living on the other side of the country or in other countries. People are delaying getting married and having children. The number of people of all ages living alone in developed countries has increased dramatically and loneliness is becoming increasingly common. In short, research shows that people are becoming more socially isolated.

A Brigham Young University meta-study of 148 different studies using over 300 000 subjects concluded that a lack of true friendship and social support can be deadly. Our experiences within close relationships significantly predict mortality. Those people in sound relationships have a 50% greater chance of survival than their friendless counterparts. “We knew that the body of research that had been done on social relationships was large,” says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., a co-author of the study. “But no one in the health community seemed to recognize the extent to which social relationships affect mortality.”

It turns out that social isolation may be the biggest risk factor to our health. The research shows the following effects of low social interaction:

  • As dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
  • As dangerous as being an alcoholic.
  • As harmful as never exercising.
  • Twice as dangerous as being obese.
  1. Friendship and social interaction at work boosts engagement.

Friendships have tremendous implications for work too. The Gallup organization has conducted intensive research on the impact of friendship at work. The key question asked to over 15 million people all over the world was whether they had a “best friend” at work. The question was very specific as it proved through early research to be a much more powerful predictor of workplace outcomes than merely having a “friend” or “good friend” at work.

The research revealed that only 30% of people have a “best friend” at work. Did it make any difference? The results again make for some interesting reading. Those who do are seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs, are far better at engaging customers, produce higher quality of work, have greater well-being and are less likely to be injured on the job.

The key difference was not what people were doing, but who they were doing it with. It didn’t even matter if the tasks the friends were doing were directly related to workplace productivity. A study at MIT indicated that even a small increase in social cohesiveness leads to large gains in organizational productivity.

If you don’t work in an office building with lots of people or spaces to congregate make use of technology. The most progressive companies are realizing that using technology, not only to increase productivity, but to increase personal connection is going to be a key success factor for the organization of the future.

As you can see relationships play a HUGE part in our success and well-being, not just at work but in our lives and our health. Take the time to evaluate your friendships and see if there are any that are dragging you down or if there are some you would like to improve – it may be time to cut lose ends or to step up and start being a better friend yourself.

Change is never easy, but it is imperative for growth. Choose the company you keep and be willing to be a great friend in return.

All the best as you continue to shape your extraordinary life.

Eddie Botes