The Hard Facts: Your Friendship Status Makes You Happy

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“Anderson and his colleagues hypothesized that higher sociometric status — respect and admiration in your face-to-face groups, such as your friendship network, your neighborhood, or your athletic team — might make a difference in your overall happiness. ‘Having high standing in your local ladder leads to receiving more respect, having more influence, and being more integrated into the group’s social fabric,’ Anderson said.” (“Respect Matters More Than Money for Happiness in Life”; 6/20/2012)

To be clear, this isn’t just saying that having friends, neighbors or teammates will improve your happiness. (Because, I mean, duh.) It’s saying that having high status within those groups will make you happy.

The gist of the study is this, according to author Cameron Anderson: “There is abundant evidence that higher socioeconomic status — higher income or wealth, higher education — does not boost subjective well-being (or happiness) much at all. Yet at the same time, many theories suggest that higher status should boost happiness.” And so researchers have figured out that it’s the status related to commanding respect, rather than just being loaded, that gives a mood boost.

Part of me thinks this is lovely — being the president of the garden club is as happy-making as being a rich CEO!–but another part thinks it’s sad that so much of our happiness is tied into having power. And even in short time frames. The research says that even if you go up and down the “local ladder” over only nine months, your happiness will shift accordingly.

Mostly, though, I like the phrase “sociometric status.” I’d never heard it before, but basically it means (according to Wikipedia) “the degree to which someone is liked or disliked by their peers as a group.” So as opposed to channeling a fourth-grader, declaring that “nobody likes that girl,” you can just sound all academic and explain that your lifelong frenemy has low sociametric status. So much more civilized.

I am the president of exactly nothing. I am relatively liked, I think (I hope?), but I don’t have especially high status in any areas. (Other than my original NYC book club, of which I am considered the godfather, which I appreciate. That actually does make me happy). And still, I’m in a pretty good place. So here’s the question: Have you noticed your happiness levels change as your sociometric status changes? Or, to put it in people terms, are you happier when you feel generally loved?


Filed under The Search

14 responses to “The Hard Facts: Your Friendship Status Makes You Happy

  1. This really hit home to me because I was caught in a situation early this year where I said something to a large group of people that I shouldn’t have and made some lose respect for me and one person just flat out hate me. It took me a really long time to get over what I had done and how that other person took the situation. I realized that I really do have trouble when people don’t like me. I went through a rough patch, but you have to plow through and grow from your mistakes and, if the other person continues to hold a grudge and won’t accept your apology, you know who’s the bigger person! (;
    Thank you for posting!

  2. Funny how this is presented through the medium of a blog.
    I know I get a sensation of happiness if people care enough to read mine, or follow it. I.e. people think it has a high “sociometric status” (definitely using that!)
    It’s no wonder,as well, that so many people are addicted or dependent on the internet. It has such a large technological catchment area that it means it’s easier to find people who esteem your “sociometric status” *** hence becoming very dependent on these networks for self esteem.
    Interesting article as always though 😀

    *** Sociometric status is a bit of a mouthful so I was going to abbreviate it to S.S. … then realised that’s the initials of the old Nazi secret police and thought better of it…

  3. I gotta say I half-disagree with this study. While being considered a leader of your group can make one happier, I think this could give a sense that happiness isn’t really for everyone. Given that each group only gives limited seats to power, does this mean that only they can be happy? Okay, I know this view is limited, considering that there are other factors that can make one happy, but since we are social beings, being considered a leader in our circles could greatly affect our happiness.

    With that said, the part I really doubt about the study is, should one really be an official leader of a group in order to be happy? Or can one simply be considered influential, even if he or she isn’t really one of the leaders? For example, within student organizations in the university I went to, active org members were valued as much as their org leaders. Their voices are heard, their contributions are appreciated, and sure enough, they are more highly likely to become the next future leaders of their organizations.

    So should one really have to gain power in order to be valued, and thus, find happiness? Or can we also just do what we love and actively participate, in order for us to be valued and thus be happy for being valued?

  4. penny

    I dont think it’s necessarily all about power but more about respect, esteem and likeability. If I’m part of a group that values my input, ideas and just generally appreciates me being there, I’m much more likely to be happy than if the group did not value my contributions.

  5. ana

    I think it makes sense. I’ve realized that for the majority of people, one essential facet of happiness is feeling needed & valued—whether by work, family, community, religion, it doesn’t matter, its just the feeling that your life has meaning. So if you are in a position of “power”, there are more people that respect and value your words & actions and look to you for advice/leadership. Certainly it’ll make one feel needed & valued…thus happier.

  6. Aimee

    I was once president of the state chapter of my alma mater’s Alumni Club, and I can say without a doubt that that was the most UNHAPPY year of my life. The responsibility was incredibly stressful for me.

    I am happy when I am invited to participate in a group, and when I bring my unique strengths to that group (right now I’m on a community sub-committee for the city public school department, and I LOVE it), and my efforts are appreciated.

  7. Cassie

    This post seems to be in direct contradiction to a post a few weeks ago about being lonely on top. When you are the leader of the group, many times people pretend to like you to ensure their own status within the group. While it might feel good at times, it is usually fake.

    I suppose this could be felt different if you are the leader of a group while holding no real responsibility. I am on the older side of a group of my cousins and while our parents always have the final say in a decision, I do feel good when my younger cousins look to me as a role model.

    As far as finding friends when you do hold responsibility in a leadership role, I find that it is not very likely…

    • That’s a good point! I think that, as someone else said, this is really about being respected and well- regarded in your social circle… More than it is about power.

  8. Amy

    I can relate to this because of my involvement in my own neighborhood. I got involved to meet my neighbors but also to promote my business and generate new business with new contacts. I joined local community groups, joined committees, two Boards, and became secretary for two groups. What made me happy was being involved in the fabric of the community, being an active part of decisions made, and being needed. I wasn’t at the top but I had access to a lot of information and people came to me often because I knew everyone and pretty much everything! While it was mostly good, I was so involved I burned out, eventually left my business, and while I’m still involved the powers that be have changed and I’m not in the new crowd. Now I feel left out! Its an interesting switch.

  9. Yes, I started two Facebook groups, and that is a happiness booster. Taking the initiative to gather friends and host a party or a hangout that is appreciated also does much for my happiness.

  10. This might not even be relevant, but as I was reading, I found myself thinking of a NatGeo documentary on stress (and titled “Stress”). There were longitudinal studies done on a troupe of monkeys (forget what kind…), and they found higher levels of heart disease and stress hormones in the submissive males than in the dominant males. The same goes for humans. Humans at the perceived, or actual, bottom of their food chain (think downtrodden in a company) typically had much lower levels of happiness, higher levels of stress (and accompanied illness), and, obviously (or not), a lower quality of life.

    Just food for thought. As I said, I’m not even sure if this relates, but I found my mind wandering there throughout reading…

  11. I dont think its about Power….its all about Being Loved..!! When you are liked by the social group, its a direct indication that you are very well admired and appreciated…and I guess thats the bottomline 😉

  12. I completely disagree with this study – I believe happiness is a choice. For me happiness means when one is able to count their blessings, is able to enjoy their own company any time day or night and be content with who they are – unconditional self-acceptance.

    Friendships etc can add to (and sometimes detract from) your happiness quota, but ultimately the state of happiness is something that comes down to a choice.

    I think that this study implies that one needs the acceptance & adoration of others in order to be happy – which I would say is a huge can of worms and is more indicative of an indulgent self-help FB/blog society reliant on instant feedback than an ground breaking research! 🙂

  13. Reblogged this on MavenSocial and commented:
    The higher standing you have in a group of people (amongst your peers), the more influence and power you have; and more importantly, the happier you are. Sounds simple enough. With this high trust factor bestowed on you by your peers, the more influence you can exert on them in everyday interactions, simply through sharing life together (I’m love the new ____ minivan we just bought, fits all four kids AND our camping gear perfectly!). MavenSocial identifies and tracks these interactions online.

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