Real friends make you a lot happier than your Facebook friends

by Ryan Streeter on January 27, 2013. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

I’m a daily reader of Kevin Lewis’ research round-up. The following describes the different effects”friends” in online networks have on happiness compared to real-life friends. The findings come from surveys of 5,000 people in a study by┬áJohn Helliwell & Haifang Huang:

We find three key results. First, the number of real-life friends is positively correlated with subjective well-being (SWB) even after controlling for income, demographic variables and personality differences. Doubling the number of friends in real life has an equivalent effect on well-being as a 50% increase in income. Second, the size of online networks is largely uncorrelated with subjective well-being. Third, we find that real-life friends are much more important for people who are single, divorced, separated or widowed than they are for people who are married or living with a partner.

Subjective well-being, for those who don’t read this stuff much, is the academic term for happiness.

Real friends make us much happier than online friends, and this effect increases even more if you’re not married or living with someone.

Elsewhere in Lewis’s roundup is a study showing that posting more frequently to Facebook decreases loneliness. So we’re in this strange place where people feel less lonely by spending more time communicating with “friends” online, but those friends have much less effect on their happiness than real friends would if they were spending time with them instead.

Maybe we should just be going to the corner coffee shop or pub more often to spend time with real friends. Like the old days.

Related, my daughter and I were doing a little research on the average age of Facebook users. Facebook has a larger share of 45-54 year olds as users compared to other social media sites, according to this:

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That’s the age when people’s children are becoming more independent, going off to college, starting their careers and even getting married. The loneliness finding makes some sense in that regard. But it looks like they might be happier if they spend more time more time with their real friends, less updating their Facebook pages.