How Your Friends Affect Your Weight and Happiness

Day 22 of 31-Day Series “Your Last Health Resolution

Today we move from our discussion of Intake to the fourth element of the PRIMEpathway™ wellness model: Mind-Body Connection.

Tom Rath and Jim Harter published some interesting findings in their book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements.  A Harvard study collected research from a network of 12,000 people over 30 years.  They found some striking correlations.  For instance, your own odds of happiness improve by 15% if you have a direct connection with someone who is happy.

??????????????????????????????????Even indirect associations have an impact on you.  If a friend of your direct connection is happy, his odds of happiness improve by 15% and yours increase by 10%.

If you’re still not convinced of the power of association, this massive study showed a correlation even between you and your friend’s friend’s friend.  You experience a 6% chance of being more happy if this person three degrees removed from you is happy.  It doesn’t seem like much.  But researchers pointed to an increase of about $10,000 in annual income for every 2% increase in your odds of being happy.  It pays to keep happy company (or to keep your company happy).

Let’s turn to physical health and how your friends affect your weight.  If you have an obese friend, you end up with a whopping 57% chance of becoming obese yourself.  Perhaps surprisingly (definitely to me), your odds of becoming obese increase by just 37% with an obese spouse.  Do you have a physically active best friend?  You are three times more likely to be active yourself.  How about a best friend who follows a healthy diet?  You increase your odds of eating well by five times.

But it all doesn’t depend on your best friend.  The Harvard study reveals each happy friend increases your likelihood of happiness by 9% while each unhappy friend decreases your odds by just 7%.  So, in general, more relationships increase your odds of living an enjoyable life.

DSCF0541I co-directed a non-profit in Mexico City for almost three years.  We had a young team of leaders and sought to tackle some of the biggest spiritual and physical needs of the world’s second largest city.  It was a time of great vision and energy and measurable progress.  My colleague used to say, “I only have two requirements: You believe in the mission and have a positive attitude.”  He understood the significance of creating a culture of positivity.

But our attitudes stem from more than sheer willpower.  One passage of the Bible that has always struck me comes from a meeting with Peter and the religious leaders of Jerusalem.  Peter had just healed a lame man.  This was after the crucifixion of Jesus.  Still fearing an uprising from Jesus’ followers, the leaders demanded to know by what authority Peter had healed the man.  The story picks up as Peter finishes his bold testimony before them:

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.  But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.”

Our health and our positive impact on the world depends on the strength of our relationships.  Who do you share life with, and how do they encourage you to become a better person?  What’s one tangible action you could take to make a new positive relationship or strengthen one you already have?  It might make a big difference in both your health and your happiness.


About the Author:

JC combines neuroscience, psychology, and high performance to help clients achieve superior results. He has over 17 years of experience coaching leaders in the areas of employee performance, health, and personal development. Clients include several Fortune 500 companies and individuals in nearly every state in the U.S.


  1. Jenifer Hanson October 23, 2013 at 9:24 am - Reply

    While every piece of what you’ve already written is important, I just want to put my own testament to this one! When I weighed 357 pounds (to date I’ve lost 167 lbs) I had some great friends – but I spent more time alone or with friends who supported my negative habits and attitudes. When I was ready to change my life, I knew I needed both healthy role models AND friends who were positively supportive. The more I shared what I needed, the more those people came forward in my life. I like and interact with many different kinds of people – but I now know that it is really important to choose for my close friends those who understand and support my BEST self. And it is vitally important that I do the same for them. Excellent article!

    • Joe October 23, 2013 at 8:31 pm - Reply

      Well said Jenifer. Thanks for adding that!

  2. […] Knowing how to enhance your mood will benefit you and everyone around you.  Remember how your happiness affects your friends?  Your happiness will increase their odds of being happy by 15%.  So think about how to […]

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