One of the books I’m reading at the moment is Tom Rath and Jim Harter’s Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, which summarizes the findings of ongoing research by Gallup over a number of years on the subject of wellbeing and happiness. In the section on social wellbeing, Rath and Harter point out an important influence on our lives that’s often ignored: our friends’ habits.
Habits of friends have a profound effect on us, often even more than habits of parents or spouses. For example, when I was much younger (and more foolish), I smoked, though not heavily. When I moved to a new town where I’d be spending time constantly with friends who didn’t smoke–and who didn’t like smoking–I stopped. I literally smoked right up until the day I moved, then quit cold turkey and never picked up the habit again.
There are some useful ideas that emerge from understanding the power of friends’ habits, ones that impact our own self-motivation and give us more tools to help people who are close to us.
1. Buddying up makes habit change easier
Working together with a friend who wants to make some of the same improvements you do helps encourage habit change in at least three ways: first, any kind of social support makes us more likely to follow through with the changes we want to make in our lives. Second, any gains our friends makes help encourage and influence our own improvements. And third, changing habits together with someone whose company is enjoyable makes the change and the new habits more attractive, which makes it easier for the new behavior to become permanent.
2. Improvements in your life can help improve your friends’ lives
If you want to help make your friends’ lives happier, more successful, healthier, or more fulfilling, one of the best possible things you can do is acquire a good habit yourself. The change in you has a good chance of being noticed and admired by your friends, and it’s possible some of them will make improvements in their own lives inspired by your example. Additionally, making a positive change in part for the benefit of friends offers you an additional, very meaningful kind of inspiration to succeed.
3. Pick your friends carefully
If you spend time with people who are stuck and unhappy with their lives or who have bad habits you don’t want to pick up, your own quality of life is more likely to worsen unless you have so much support from other parts of your life that you’re a much stronger influence on your friends than they are on you.
Simply being aware of the impact friends can have on our habits and wellbeing can help bring out problems that were hidden and offer new possibilities for making things better.
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