"We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with,” said motivational guru Jim Rohn.
Scientific evidence backs him up.
“We have been able to show, using both observational and experimental methods, that seemingly very personal things like your emotional state or your body size, or how kind you are, or whether you vote or not, depends on whether other people around you do that, and even other people you don’t know,” says Yale University Professor Dr. Nicholas Christakis.
Your environment affects your mood, your mental health, and even your lifespan.
How do the people around you influence your mental health?
Science shows 7 ways your social network influences you:
- Friends influence your choices and decisions. If you’re wavering on whether to do something or not, your friends’ opinions are frequently the deciding factor, according to a study. However, the decisions of strangers you observe are likely to affect your behavior, too.
- Friends help you live longer. Research indicates that older people with a large network of friends tend to outlive others by 22%.
- Friends and family influence your mood. The Framingham Study showed that if one spouse became happy, the other spouse was 8% more likely to do the same. Siblings increased the effect to 14%.
- Friends influence your weight. The Framingham Study also showed that if a person’s friend became obese, the chance of the person growing obese increased 57%.
- People around you influence your results. Social facilitation experiments indicate that people who are competing against someone else perform better. Additional studies demonstrate the co-action effect, where just doing something around other people helps you perform better.
- Social support reduces the risk of depression among seniors and helps keep your mental health in check.
- Toxic friends, the ones who put you down and never give back, can reduce self-esteem and increase stress.
How do you ensure your friends will help you become a better person?
Ways to improve your social network include:
- Volunteering exposes you to people of all ages, expertise, backgrounds, and social strata. You’re likely to meet different types of friends, depending on whether you’re a docent at a museum or you help out at a soup kitchen.
- Travel helps you meet people who are different from you.
- Get a pet. Not only will you always have a pet who will always be your friend, pets attract people who may become new friends.
- Walk around your neighborhood to get to know your neighbors and, maybe, make some new friends.
- Dump toxic friends. If a friend is truly toxic, there is nothing you can do to change it. Don’t waste any more of your time on them.
- Help critical friends. You may have a friend who is always negative. See if you can help them adopt a new attitude. If not, reduce contact. Negativity is contagious.
You can meet new people almost anywhere simply by talking to those around you. Whether you’re in the supermarket or waiting for a bus, simply strike up a conversation.
Older people have a real advantage in this practice because most people are respectful of their elders. You may be surprised by the number of delightful people you meet on the street.
Can you influence others?
If scientific research shows that you are influenced by others, does that mean that others are influenced by you? Absolutely!
“When you make a positive change in your life, when you act kindly towards others, when you vote, when you express joy and happiness towards others, it doesn’t just benefit you—it benefits those people and in fact ripples out and could affect many, many other people,” Christakis remarks.