It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“Individuals report a fall in their happiness when they lose a job, but they report a smaller fall when they are surrounded by unemployed peers, an effect called the ‘social norm.’ … When unemployment increases, the unemployed are happier and they reduce their search effort.” (The World Bank, “Can Subjective Well-Being Predict Unemployment Length?” May, 2010)
Though things seem to be slowly turning around, here’s one fact about unemployment: According to the New York Times’ Economix Blog, “the average length of time the jobless have been out of work [reached] 31.2 weeks in March. That’s the longest average jobless period since the government began collecting such data in 1948.” Upon reading this, my initial thought was that friends must be more important than ever. When you’re struggling, career or otherwise, you need a shoulder and all that. Plus, as was pointed out when I mentioned the link between friendship and finances, more friends means more networking connections, which can lead to more job opportunities. Once again, BFFs prevail!
Well, maybe. When all your friends are employed, this theory is peachy keen. But what happens when you and your friends are jobless? Then things get dicey. According to this World Bank study, you’ll have a less significant decline in happiness if your friends are in the fray with you. Less unhappiness is good. Advantage, friends. But, “if a relevant other [read: friend] is also jobless, than both individuals search with less intensity.” That’s not so good.
I guess it makes perfect sense. There’s strength in numbers. If your friends are unemployed, you don’t feel alone. The urgency to find a job is less because, well, everybody’s in the same boat. And if your friends can’t find a paying gig, how will you? It’s easier to settle into the new, albeit unfortunate, situation when you’ve got company. I know if I were the only person I knew who was (involuntarily) unemployed, I’d make finding a job my job. But if my BFFs and I were all in it together, getting a job might feel out of my control. We might all just park it on the couch with TBS reruns and a bowl of Sun Chips.
So I have to wonder, what’s the lesson in all of this? To surround myself with people who are everything I want to be? If success and health are contagious, I want me some rich and stunning friends. Of course, there’s a strong case to be made for befriending different types of people. But then, happiness and well-being come in all different forms. Maybe it’s just avoiding the Debbie Downers. But then, Debbie needs friends too. Otherwise, how will she get out of the dumps?
See, I’m conflicted. What do you take from the idea that much of our lives are dictated by our social networks? Do you buy it?