39 years later…
Some data from the happiness survey. And, 7 other things worth knowing today.
As promised yesterday, we have more data from the reader happiness survey to share. Today, we’ll focus on four questions that many of you answered:
“On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you?”
“Can I ask how many good friends you'd say that you have?”
“On a scale of 1 to 10, how fulfilled or happy does your work make you feel?”
“If you think about your best friend, where did you meet him or her?”
I know this isn’t exactly a peer-reviewed study, but I think I’ve learned a lot about you all (and me!) from this exercise. The idea came largely from this much-quoted observation from the Harvard Grant Study:
"The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period."
So, let’s start with the question about number of “good friends” and happiness.
First of all, there were 2,144 overall responses to the survey; 2,086 answered the question asking about the number of “good friends” they have. Some data points:
In general, yes, it looks as if number of good friends and happiness correlate with one another.
A plurality of readers said they have exactly 5 good friends.
On the low end, a non-negligible number of readers reported having zero good friends, while some reported very high numbers—so high, like 500 or more, that I had questions.
But, I also had no way to follow-up, since this was an anonymous survey. So, c’est la vie.
The blue columns below represent self-reported happiness according to number of reported friends; the maroon line that looks like a spaghetti strand displays how many people reported having each number of “good friends.”
Like many good data compilations, these points lead me to want to know many other things. I’d love to hear your theories in the comments:
Does having more friends actually cause greater happiness?
Or, are people who are happier to begin with, and thus likelier to make more friends?
Or, another option: Are people who are happier more likely to describe any particular relationship as a good friend?
OK, next up: Happiness and work satisfaction.
A plurality of readers reported work satisfaction somewhere between 7 and 9 on a scale of 1 to 10. Not too shabby.
We’re also using a broad definition for the word, “work,” because we probably have 5 to 10 percent of readers who say are retired, and an even greater number who are stay-at-home parents. Looking at the comments, I’d define this as basically: “the way you spend your days in order to support the life you lead.”
In general, work satisfaction seemed to correlate with self-reported happiness, but not quite as closely as number of friends.
It’s also interesting to note that people who reported their work situation as a “1” reported higher happiness ratings than people who said their work was a “2” or a “3.” We didn’t have a ton of replies at this level, so take it for what it is. But, still.
Again, we get some of the same kinds of questions as I had above:
Are happier people in general more likely to report greater work satisfaction?
Or else, maybe happier people are less likely to put up with an unsatisfying work life?
Or, is the simple explanation the correct one: If you’re happy at work, you’re more likely to be happy overall?
Finally, for today, we have answers to the question: “If you think about your best friend, where did you meet him or her?” I started to hint at these yesterday.
This one was a bit of a challenge to compile, because I asked open-ended questions.
But, I’m pretty confident in my characterizations. For example, if someone said, “my best friend and I have known each other since we were 8,” I categorized this as “grade school,” even though they didn’t specifically say they’d met in school.
We had 2,053 answers, and the results basically look like this:
As you can see, “work” is a plurality at 28.7 percent, but that’s only if you divide “grade school/earlier,” “high school” and “college” into separate categories.
Here’s everything in a table–where people met, and the percentage of replies:
grade school/earlier: 17.44%
in college: 11.93%
in high school: 7.26%
parenting/other kids' parents: 4.09%
family member (brother/sister/child): 2.68%
my spouse is my best friend: 2.19%
met this person via my spouse: 1.41%
The “other” category was fun. First off, some of you tell very specific stories. Second, a surprising number of people said they met someone via a dating app or dating site, found there was no romantic chemistry but that they liked each other as friends, and now count that person as their best friend.
Also, I’m glad we had the discussion—wait, was it yesterday? yes, it was yesterday—about the bowling and Gallup surveys on having a best friend at work. Some of you readers are more familiar with these studies than I was (the Gallup one particularly).
In short, as one reader put it, it might be that people who have “a best friend at work” are happier and more productive, but that’s not the same thing as saying that their “best friend” in the world is someone they happened to have met at work.
You might have heard someone tell a story about their best friend “at work” as apposed to another best friend. The point in the question is for people to have someone at work they trust to confide in and with whom they genuinely enjoy spending time.
Fair point. Finally, I was going to show you the correlation between reported income and happiness, but: (a) today’s newsletter is already getting long, (b) I just realized I made a small mistake in organizing that data and I’m too tired to keep messing with it tonight, and (c) the good news is that this is a daily newsletter so we can always revisit it.
Bottom line teaser on that point, however: For the readers of Understandably, money doesn’t directly correlate with happiness. Nowhere near as close as friendships, anyway.
To close this out, I have to share just a few of the descriptions some of you shared with me about meeting best friends. There are so many fun, joyful, sad, and poignant accounts—probably every other emotion, too. Feel free to reply to me if I picked one of yours (remember, these were all anonymous), or to chime in at the comments.
“An adult beginner saxophone student of mine 7 yrs my senior, we became fast friends in 2010…”
”Age 5, at the swim club, a few weeks later we arrived in the same kindergarten classroom. 39 years later…”
“We went through grade school and high school together, I’ve known her for over 65 years!”
“Hiking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim…”
“no friends, when you've been under cover you just have acquaintances…”
“I am my own ‘best friend.’ All my activities are done solo. Unless my dog goes with me. Never take him golfing, lol. Or mountain climbing. He sucks at that!”
“Weird. This question is making me question who I think my best friend is…”
“Work, but now-deceased wife was best friend…”
“In the convent…”
“In kindergarten. Hard to believe I have known that nut for 65+ years but true…”
“My best friend and I grew up together, first meeting as 3-year-olds in church, going through school, cub scouts, sports, including football, baseball, and golf. That contact continues 60 years later…”
“My wife, we played together as toddlers and met again in college. Did not realize we knew each other as small children until our wedding day…”
“Freshman year in college. We shared the same major and were in some of the same classes. We can pick up the phone after not speaking for years, and it's just as if we'd last spoken 5 minutes ago…”
7 other things worth knowing today
“The smirking madman who turned a rush hour commute into a bloody terror when he opened fire in a crowded New York subway car called Crime Stoppers on himself Wednesday morning—then calmly went for an afternoon stroll through the East Village while he waited for police to come get him.” Helping to catch him: Zach Tahhan, a 21-year-old Syrian immigrant who spotted him and called police who still couldn’t find him. (NY Post, NY Times)
Elon Musk made a hostile offer to buy Twitter outright, at $54.20 per share, a significant premium, according to a filing he made with the SEC last night. Gosh, I wonder why he chose $54.20. Why not $54.19 or $54.21? Must be a highly complicated analysis of its value. (SEC)
The Pulitzer prize-winning investigative group ProPublica got their hands on a giant trove of leaked, previously secret IRS files and tax data. Now they're publishing exactly how much money some of the wealthiest people in America make. (ProPublica)
The owner of a new Tesla Model 3 was left in shock after the car's main features allegedly froze while he was driving on the freeway. ... He said the car was stuck going 83 mph and the main screen was frozen. (ABC7)
“Two major international bridges were effectively shut down after Mexican truckers blocked lanes in both directions to protest a new border security initiative from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that forced them to wait hours or days to bring products into the U.S.“(WSJ, $)
Netflix subscribers in Russia have filed a class-action lawsuit against the streaming giant for its decision to withdraw from the country over its invasion and bloody war in Ukraine. (UPI)
Study from the journal Frontiers in Psychology: Being bilingual slows brain aging. (BrainTomorow)
Thanks for reading. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.
Once again it boils down to definitions. Is a best friend a) someone who has the same sense of humor 2) someone with your same values, 3) someone who’s a great travel
companion, 4) someone you can be vulnerable with 5) good drinking/golfing/hobby buddy 6) someone whose opinion you respect or 7) someone who’s honest with you when you’re being a prick (and you listen)? What’s the difference between a friend and an acquaintance? I do have friends and each fit into these categories. Everyone else is an acquaintance. So friendship for me is not based on my level of need, but on the level of empathy, honesty, compassion, vulnerability and patience we have for each other. My friends tend to stick around for years/lifetime. What’s curious to me is that the rest of my family admitted that they have no friends.
I have one good friend I have known for 26 years. We have always been there for each other. Most of my friends are situational: friends I bowl with in the Thursday night league; friends I go to baseball games with (go Reds), etc. Having these friends makes me happy because I can enjoy my favorite hobbies but not reveal too much about myself. That privilege is reserved for my best friend.