Circle of Friends: Older Adults’ Friendships Linked to Stronger Emotional Well-Being

A recent study published in The Journals of Gerontology highlighted how everyday contact with friends may be linked to higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction in later years. Specifically, the study examined whether encounters with friends over the course of the day resulted in more pleasantness, less discussion about stressful experiences, and better mood, compared to when they were alone or in contact with social partners other than close friends.

The authors used data collected from 313 participants age 65 and better from the Daily Experiences and Well-Being Study. Along with background information, participants completed an Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) survey every three hours over a period of five to six days. Participants reported their encounters with social partners, scored the degree of pleasantness they experienced after every contact, indicated whether they talked about stressful events during each encounter, and rated positive or negative mood.

Compared to contact with romantic partners or family members throughout the day, the study found that contact with friends played a much stronger role in enhancing daily emotional well-being in older adults. Further, compared to married older adults, participants who were not married reported more pleasantness and positive mood when they were with friends, suggesting that those who are unmarried, widowed, or divorced may rely on friends for emotional well-being. Another key finding was that closeness of friendship was not associated with positive everyday experiences, indicating that even peripheral or less close ties—such as those with acquaintances—may be beneficial in terms of social integration, companionship, and having fun.

These findings underscore the importance of friendships in later life. Future research could examine the nature of contact with friends and other social partners, to better understand the factors contributing to enhancing emotional well-being in older adults.

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Ng, YT, Huo, M, Gleason, ME, Neff, LA, Charles, ST, & Fingerman, KL. Friendships in old age: Daily encounters and emotional well-being. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B 2021;76(3):551-562.

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