Recipe for Happiness 4: Friendship

by Waleed Ali Khan

Like any child, I’ve been instilled with values that my parents have learnt throughout their lives. In fact, I think I take their idea of right and wrong as my guide for life. However, over time, as I have faced my own life lessons, I have been able to challenge what they have taught me. My father used to tell me that friends are not important, as they come and go. This, having resonated in my mind since I could remember, has made me into a person who does not open up to people that easily. To the contrary, I used to take pride in the idea that I do not need to make friends, as needing friends was a sign of clip_image002weakness. I think this idea spreads across upbringing in the south Asian culture, and hence could be a possible explanation of the lack of social and the abundance of academic skills that we possess.

Don’t get me wrong, I was in no way a loner. I just didn’t think friends were an important part of my life. This idea got me into a great deal of psychological mess as I came to live alone here in Qatar. I realized that the only way for me to survive is to have trustworthy friends. After a very long time, as I made friends, I realized the joy that friendship can bring. The meaning of friendship changed for me.

I therefore wish to explore in this post the basic need for friendship and affiliation, and how it relates to happiness. Of course I need to do some research as I really hesitate in giving any opinion without scientific evidence to prove my point.

Happiness is infectious. It should come as no surprise as we watch movies and also real life events where we see other people’s happiness and we get a smile on our faces. However, the effects of such happiness are underestimated to say the least. Research done at the University of California, San Diego has significant evidence to prove that happiness is contagious for up to three degrees of separation, as there is a chain reaction that starts off when one person is happy. What’s even more surprising is that this happiness affects people for a year. And guess what? Its not the other way around – sadness isn’t contagious. This enough should be evidence that friendship results in happiness (of course I am talking clip_image004about it in terms of the bigger picture).

An even more interesting research was done in the UK (Warwick University) where it has been found that the amount of extra income one would need to compensate for the lack of friends (and still be equally happy) is £50,000.

I don’t remember the source, but I watched this podcast on positive psychology  and the psychologist was talking about how social interaction can reduce our depression over an issue. I think this is important because we tend to shut ourselves out whenever we hear bad news, as that is the easiest thing to do. I encourage everyone to force oneself to socialize even more during a hard time, as I myself have seen its positive effect. It wasn’t long ago when I would just sit at home and “sleep out” a bad day, only to wake up and feel worse.

I think adding Aristotle’s idea of happiness is appropriate here, because it has been something that has been stuck in my head ever since I’ve heard it. He believed that happiness is achieved through, what he called, “practical virtue” which he refers to as the best kind of happiness. This is based on friendliness, truthfulness, ready wit, lack of shame, balance of ambition and control of anger. All these are virtues of a good friend.

If this kind of happiness cannot be achieved for whatever reason, one should attempt for intellectual happiness.  (see my previous happiness post on Creative Happiness and the idea of “flow”.)

I remain an introvert, and I need my own private space every day. But that in no way means that my friends are any less valuable to me.