Friends Influence Health, Happiness and Productivity

The value of friendships in our society across both our private and our public lives has been completely under-rated, according to New York Times best-selling author Tom Rath. Drawing on more than five million interviews conducted by The Gallup Organization as well as the work of several leading researchers, Mr. Rath uncovered some startling truths about the bonds we form and how they affect everything from our attitude to our productivity. The results are provocative and certain to change the way we look at friendships. Mr. Rath details all in his latest book: Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without.

Among the author’s discoveries:

• People who have a “best friend” at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their work. They also have fewer accidents, more engaged customers, and are more likely to innovate and share new ideas.

• Although most companies don’t encourage, and some outright forbid, close relationships between workers, Gallup research shows that close friendships at work boosts employee satisfaction by almost 50%.

• The research overall shows that the quality of the friendships in life are the best predictors of daily happiness and life satisfaction, and have profound implications for physical health and longevity.

• People with at least three close friends at work were 46% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their job and 88% more likely to be satisfied with their lives.

• Friendship is the silver lining in a marriage, accounting for approximately 70% of overall marital satisfaction, and was found to be more than five times as many people ranking it as more important than sex or “intimate relations.”

• Spending time with the boss was rated as the least pleasurable time of the day. However, when employees have a close friendship with a boss, they are more than twice as likely to be satisfied with their jobs.

• The water-cooler effect: Employees are three times as likely to have a close-knit work group if the physical environment makes it easy to socialize. Unfortunately, only one-third of the people studied report working in such an environment.

• Do friends shape your waistline? If a best friend has a very healthy diet, you are more than five times as likely to have a very healthy diet yourself.

• Successful friendships are the ones in which friends play a specific role in your life. There are eight roles of friends defined in the book (see below). The fatal mistake in friendships is forcing one person to fill every role.

The studies that the book is based on reveal that people have significantly better friendships if they can easily describe what each friend contributes to the relationship. To make that possible, Gallup built an assessment to help people determine the roles friends play and to give both participants the language to talk about those roles and how to make them better. Each copy of Vital Friends has a unique code that allows readers to take the assessment that identifies what role a friend plays in his or her life.

Here’s a look at the top eight friendship roles that research uncovered:

Builders are friends who motivate you, invest in your development, and truly want you to succeed — even if it means they’ll go out on a limb for you. These friends help you see your strengths and advise you on how best to use them. They are generous with their time and encourage you to accomplish more. They’ll never compete with you and will always be standing at the finish line to cheer you on.

Champions stand up for you and your beliefs and they praise you to everyone else they know. They are the friends who “have your back” and will advocate for you when you’re not around to defend yourself. Champions are your strongest supporters who thrive on your accomplishments and happiness.

Collaborators are friends with similar interests, those who share your passion for sports, hobbies, religion, work, politics, food, movies, music, or books. Shared interests are what often make collaborators lifelong friends and those with whom you are most likely to spend your time.

Companions are always there for you, whatever the circumstances. You share a bound that is virtually unbreakable and when something big happens in your life, good or bad, this is the person you call first. These friends are always giving you meaningful gifts and they will sacrifice for your benefit.

Connectors are the bridge builders who help you get what you want. These friends get to know you and then instantly work to connect you with others who will share your interests or goals. They extend your network dramatically and give you access to new resources. If you need a job, a doctor, a friend, or a date, call a connector.

Energizers are fun friends who are always there to boost your spirits and create more positive moments in your life. They pick you up when you’re down and can turn a good day into an even better one. Energizers are those to call on when you need a laugh, a smile, or a bit of relaxation in your day.

Mind Openers are the friends who stretch your viewpoint, introduce you to new ideas, opportunities, cultures, and people. They help you to expand your vision and create positive change in your life. These are the friends who challenge conventional wisdom and come up with creative solutions to whatever problems or obstacles you face. They are stimulating and motivating and allow you to express opinions that you might be uncomfortable articulating to others.

Navigators are friends who give advice and direction. You seek them out when you need guidance and counsel — they’re great at talking through your options. Navigators are best at hearing your dreams and goals and then helping you find the path to achieve them.

Having the right expectation of your friends is everything, writes Tom Rath in Vital Friends. If your expectations of a friend are in line with what they contribute to your friendship, the relationship is poised to thrive and make both of you better off in the process.

In the foreword to the book, Tom Rath provides some fascinating insight into his own interest in the concept of friendships and their value. “The energy between two people is what creates great marriages, families, teams and organizations,” writes Mr. Rath. “Yet when we think consciously about improving our lives, we put almost all of our effort into self-development. As I look back on my formal education, it was based almost entirely on mastery of a topic or building my knowledge base. In grade school, I learned how to read, multiply, and write, and I attempted to learn a foreign language. During college and graduate school, I had the opportunity to focus on even more specific topics that piqued my interest. Throughout my professional life, I have attended countless development programs that aimed to make me more productive. Even when I have dedicated time to developing others, my attention has focused on each person’s self-development. I had it all wrong. The potential was hiding within each relationship in my life.”

The book shines a potent and provocative new light on the value of friendships throughout our lives and gives us each the tools to make the most of each and every one of these connections.

About the Book Author:
Tom Rath is the coauthor of the #1 New York Times and #1 BusinessWeek bestseller, How Full Is Your Bucket? With more than 500,000 copies in print within its first year of publication, his book has spent 15 months on the domestic bestseller list. Now available in more than ten languages, Mr. Rath’s book has also been an international bestseller. After 12 years with The Gallup Organization, Mr. Rath now leads Gallup’s Workplace Research and Leadership Consulting worldwide. He also serves on the board of VHL.org, an organization dedicated to cancer research and patient support. Mr. Rath earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Michigan. He is currently pursuing graduate degrees at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Pennsylvania. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Book Purchase Details:
The book, Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, can be purchased from Amazon.ca (for Canadian orders), Amazon.com (for US orders), or Amazon.co.uk for international orders.

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