TIME Parenting

From BFF to ‘Friend Divorce:’ The 5 Truths We Should Teach Our Girls About Friendship

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There's no such thing as a perfect friendship. It’s time to teach girls the truth about the complexities of BFFs.

Girls may love movies about fairytale princes, but their most captivating romance is with their friends. Every year, I stand on the stages of school auditoriums and ask thousands of girls this question: “How many of you have had a friend divorce?”

Instantly, a sea of hands shoot up in the air – this is not a term I need to define. The girls look around furtively, surprise spreading across their faces. They are astonished to discover they are not the only ones who have lost close friends.

That’s because girls receive unrealistic messages about how to have a friendship. Films and television see-saw between two extremes: mean girl-fests (think Real Housewives) and bestie love-fests (Sex and the City). Adults, meanwhile, aren’t always the perfect role models, either. The result is a steady diet of what I call “friendship myths”: find a best friend, and keep her forever. A good friendship is one where you never fight and are always happy. The more friends you have, the cooler you are.

These myths are all part of the pressure girls face to be “good girls”: liked by everyone, nice to all, and pleasing others before herself. It’s a subject I wrote an entire book on, and see often with my students.

Research has found that girls who are more authentic in their friendships – by being open and honest about their true feelings, and even having conflicts – have closer, happier connections with each other. Yet when a girls’ social life goes awry, they often blame themselves. Many interpret minor problems as catastrophes. Some may not even tell their parents out of embarrassment.

But there are things we can do to prepare girls for the gritty realities of real-life friendships. We can teach them that friendship challenges are a fact of life. That hiccups – a moody friend, fight over a love interest, or mean joke –- are simply par for the course. And when we do? They probably wouldn’t beat themselves up as much when conflicts happen. They’d be more willing to seek out support and move on when it did. Instead of expecting perfection all the time, they could adapt more easily to stress.

Here are five hard but important truths we can teach our girls about their relationships — perhaps sparing them that traumatizing “friend divorce” later on.

There is no such thing as a perfect friendship.

A healthy friendship is one where you share your true feelings without fearing the end of the relationship. It’s also one where you sometimes have to let things that bug you slide. The tough moments will make you wiser about yourself and each other. They will also make you stronger and closer as friends.

You will be left out or excluded.

It may happen because someone is being mean to you, or because someone forgot to include you. It will happen for a big reason or no clear reason at all; it will have everything or nothing to do with you. You will feel sad about it, and as your parent, I will be there to support you.

No matter how hard you try, your apology may not be accepted.

Some people just can’t move on from a conflict. You are only responsible for your own actions, not others’. You cannot make anyone do anything they don’t want to do. If you have done everything you can to make things right on your side, all you can do is wait. Yes, you may wait a long time, maybe even forever, but I will be there to support you.

Friend divorce happens.

Just like people date and break up, friends break up, too. “Best friends forever” rarely ever happens; it’s just that no one talks about it. Friend divorce is a sign that something was broken in your relationship, and it creates space in your life to let the next good friend in. You may be heartbroken by this experience, but your heart is strong, and you will find a new close friend again soon. I will be there to support you.

Friendships ebb and flow.

There are times in every friendship when you or your friend are too busy to call, or are more focused on other relationships. It will hurt, but it’s rarely personal. Making it personal usually makes things worse, and being too clingy or demanding can drive a friend even further away. Like people, friendships can get “overworked” and need to rest. In the meantime, let’s figure out other friends you can connect with.

I know plenty of grown-ups who still haven’t learned these truths – and they can be painful. But that’s all part of friendship: understanding just how hard – but at the same time, rewarding — it can be.

 

Rachel Simmons is the co-founder of Girls Leadership Institute and the author of the New York Times bestselling book, “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls” and “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls With Courage and Confidence.” Follow her on Twitter @racheljsimmons.

TIME psychology

Here’s How to Know Who Your Real Friends Are

Fackbook Acquires WhatsApp For $16 Billion
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Look at your phone texting and calling patterns. Scientists are realizing they give powerful insights about relationships.

Via Sciencemag.org:

Just by analyzing the calling patterns, the researchers could accurately label two people as friends or nonfriends more than 95% of the time. But the results, published online today in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that the mobile phone data were better at predicting friendship than the subjects themselves. Thirty-two pairs of subjects switched from calling each other acquaintances to friends in the traditionally gathered survey data. These are most likely new relationships that formed during the course of the study, say the researchers, and they left a clear signal in the mobile phone data. Friends call each other far more often than acquaintances do when they are off-campus and during weekends. The pattern is so distinct that the researchers spotted budding friendships in the phone data months before the people themselves called themselves friends.

There’s another great article in the WSJ by Robert Lee Hotz about how scientists are using phone data to study our behavior — and learning more than they ever thought they could:

…at MIT, scientists who tracked student cellphones during the latest presidential election were able to deduce that two people were talking about politics, even though the researchers didn’t know the content of the conversation. By analyzing changes in movement and communication patterns, researchers could also detect flu symptoms before the students themselves realized they were getting sick.

“Phones can know,” said Dr. Pentland, director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, who helped pioneer the research. “People can get this god’s-eye view of human behavior.”

Of course, companies are very interested in this data:

Cellphone providers are openly exploring other possibilities. By mining their calling records for social relationships among customers, several European telephone companies discovered that people were five times more likely to switch carriers if a friend had already switched, said Mr. Eagle, who works with the firms. The companies now selectively target people for special advertising based on friendships with people who dropped the service.

And some of the results are downright unnerving:

After analyzing more than 16 million records of call date, time and position, the researchers determined that, taken together, people’s movements appeared to follow a mathematical pattern. The scientists said that, with enough information about past movements, they could forecast someone’s future whereabouts with 93.6% accuracy.

The pattern held true whether people stayed close to home or traveled widely, and wasn’t affected by the phone user’s age or gender.

A few other interesting tidbits:

  1. Overall, our phones make us happier. (There’s even an app for that.)
  2. They may be making us more selfish, however. Our phones can fulfill our need for human contact, making us less inclined to go out of our way to help others.
  3. These devices can distract us so much we don’t notice the world around us — even if it contains unicycling clowns. (To be fair, people may actually like us better when we are distracted during a conversation.)
  4. We’ve become so addicted to our phones that two-thirds of users report hearing “phantom ringing.”
  5. We rely so much on these devices that a third of people under 30 can’t remember their home phone numbers — if they have one at all.
  6. 5% of relationships were ended by text message. People even get divorced via text. (iPhone users are more promiscuous, by the way.)
  7. By stripping away the emotional information in faces and intonation, text messaging might be simulating autism.
  8. That said, text message reminders have effectively encouraged saving, reduced smoking and increased voting.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 135,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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TIME psychology

How to Get People to Like You: 7 Ways From an FBI Behavior Expert

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Meeting new people can be awkward. What should you say? How can you make a good impression? How do you keep a conversation going?

Research shows relationships are vital to happiness and networking is the key to getting jobs and building a fulfilling career.

But what’s the best way to build rapport and create trust? Plain and simple, who can explain how to get people to like you?

Robin Dreeke can.

Robin was head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program and has studied interpersonal relations for over 27 years.

He is the author of the excellent book, It’s Not All About “Me”: The Top Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport with Anyone.

I gave Robin a call to get some answers. (Note that Robin is not speaking for the FBI here, these are his expert insights.)

You’re going to learn:

  1. The #1 secret to clicking with people.
  2. How to put strangers at ease.
  3. The thing you do that turns people off the most.
  4. How to use body language like a pro.
  5. Some great verbal jiu-jitsu to use on people who try to manipulate you.

And a lot more. Okay, let’s learn something.

1) The Most Important Thing To Do With Anyone You Meet

Robin’s #1 piece of advice: “Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them.”

Ask questions. Listen. But don’t judge. Nobody — including you — likes to feel judged.

Here’s Robin:

The number one strategy I constantly keep in the forefront of my mind with everyone I talk to is non-judgmental validation. Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them. People do not want to be judged in any thought or opinion that they have or in any action that they take.

It doesn’t mean you agree with someone. Validation is taking the time to understand what their needs, wants, dreams and aspirations are.

So what should you do when people start spouting crazy talk? Here’s Robin:

What I prefer to try to do is, as soon as I hear something that I don’t necessarily agree with or understand, instead of judging it my first reaction is, “Oh, that’s really fascinating. I never heard it in quite that way. Help me understand. How did you come up with that?”

You’re not judging, you’re showing interest. And that lets people calmly continue talking about their favorite subject: themselves.

Studies show people get more pleasure from talking about themselves than they do from food or money:

Talking about ourselves—whether in a personal conversation or through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter—triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money…

(To learn how FBI hostage negotiators build rapport and trust, click here.)

So you’ve stopped being Judgy Judgerson and you’re happily validating. Oh, if it were only that easy… What’s the problem here? Your ego.

2) Suspend Your Ego To Make People Love You

Most of us are just dying to point out how other people are wrong. (Comment sections on the internet are fueled by this, aren’t they?)

And it kills rapport. Want to correct someone? Want to one-up them with your clever little story? Don’t do it.

Here’s Robin:

Ego suspension is putting your own needs, wants and opinions aside. Consciously ignore your desire to be correct and to correct someone else. It’s not allowing yourself to get emotionally hijacked by a situation where you might not agree with someone’s thoughts, opinions or actions.

Contradicting people doesn’t build relationships. Dale Carnegie said it many years ago — and modern neuroscience agrees.

When people hear things that contradict their beliefs, the logical part of their mind shuts down and their brain prepares to fight.

Via Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential:

So what happened in people’s brains when they saw information that contradicted their worldview in a charged political environment? As soon as they recognized the video clips as being in conflict with their worldview, the parts of the brain that handle reason and logic went dormant. And the parts of the brain that handle hostile attacks — the fight-or-flight response — lit up.

(For more on keeping a conversation fun, click here.)

So you’ve stopped trying to be clever. But how do you get a reputation as a great listener?

3) How To Be A Good Listener

We’ve all heard that listening skills are vital but nobody explains the right way to do it. What’s the secret?

Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and focus on what they’re saying right now.

Be curious and ask to hear more about what interests you.

Here’s Robin:

Listening isn’t shutting up. Listening is having nothing to say. There’s a difference there. If you just shut up, it means you’re still thinking about what you wanted to say. You’re just not saying it. The second that I think about my response, I’m half listening to what you’re saying because I’m really waiting for the opportunity to tell you my story.

What you do is this: as soon as you have that story or thought that you want to share, toss it. Consciously tell yourself, “I am not going to say it.”

All you should be doing is asking yourself, “What idea or thought that they mentioned do I find fascinating and want to explore?”

Research shows just asking people to tell you more makes you more likable and gets them to want to help you.

The basics of active listening are pretty straightforward:

  1. Listen to what they say. Don’t interrupt, disagree or “evaluate.”
  2. Nod your head, and make brief acknowledging comments like “yes” and “uh-huh.”
  3. Without being awkward, repeat back the gist of what they just said, from their frame of reference.
  4. Inquire. Ask questions that show you’ve been paying attention and that move the discussion forward.

(To learn the listening techniques of FBI hostage negotiators, click here.)

I know, I know — some people are just boring. You’re not that interested in what they’re saying. So what questions do you ask then, smart guy?

4) The Best Question To Ask People

Life can be tough for everyone: rich or poor, old or young. Everyone.

We all face challenges and we like to talk about them. So that’s what to ask about.

Here’s Robin:

A great question I love is challenges. “What kind of challenges did you have at work this week? What kind of challenges do you have living in this part of the country? What kinds of challenges do you have raising teenagers?” Everyone has got challenges. It gets people to share what their priorities in life are at that point in time.

Questions are incredibly powerful. What’s one of the most potent ways to influence someone? Merely asking for advice.

Via Adam Grant’s excellent Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

Studies demonstrate that across the manufacturing, financial services, insurance, and pharmaceuticals industries, seeking advice is among the most effective ways to influence peers, superiors, and subordinates. Advice seeking tends to be significantly more persuasive than the taker’s preferred tactics of pressuring subordinates and ingratiating superiors. Advice seeking is also consistently more influential than the matcher’s default approach of trading favors.

Twisting your mustache thinking you can use this for nefarious purposes? Wrong, Snidely Whiplash. It only works when you’re sincere.

Via Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

In her research on advice seeking, Liljenquist finds that success “depends on the target perceiving it as a sincere and authentic gesture.” When she directly encouraged people to seek advice as an influence strategy, it fell flat.

(For a list of the questions that can create a strong bond in minutes, click here.)

But what if you have to approach someone cold? How do you get people who might not want to talk to you to willingly give you their attention?

5) How To Make Strangers Feel At Ease

First thing: tell them you only have a minute because you’re headed out the door.

Here’s Robin:

When people think you’re leaving soon, they relax. If you sit down next to someone at a bar and say, “Hey, can I buy you a drink?” their shields go way up. It’s “Who are you, what do you want, and when are you leaving?” That “when are you leaving” is what you’ve got to answer in the first couple of seconds.

Research shows just asking people if now is a good time makes them more likely to comply with requests:

The results showed that compliance rates were higher when the requester inquired about respondents’ availability and waited for a response than when he pursued his set speech without waiting and inquiring about respondents’ availability.

Nobody wants to feel trapped talking to some weirdo. People are more likely to help you than you think, but they need to feel safe and in control.

(For more on how to make friends easily, click here.)

Even if you get all of the above right you can still come off like a shady used car salesman. And that fear stops you from meeting new awesome people.

Robin says one of the key reasons people come off as untrustworthy is because their words and their body language are misaligned. Let’s fix that.

6) The Best Body Language For Building Rapport

You words should be positive, free of ego and judgment — and your body language (“non-verbals”) needs to match.

Here are the things Robin recommends:

  1. “The number one thing is you’ve gotta smile. You absolutely have to smile. A smile is a great way to engender trust.”
  2. “Keep that chin angle down so it doesn’t appear like you’re looking down your nose at anyone. And if you can show a little bit of a head tilt, that’s always wonderful.”
  3. “You don’t want to give a full frontal, full body display. That could be very offensive to someone. Give a little bit of an angle.”
  4. “Keep your palms up as you’re talking, as opposed to palms down. That says, “I’m hearing what you’re saying. I’m open to what your ideas are.”
  5. “So I always want to make sure that I’m showing good, open, comfortable non-verbals. I just try to use high eyebrow elevations. Basically, anything going up and elevating is very open and comforting. Anything that is compressing: lip compression, eyebrow compression, where you’re squishing down, that’s conveying stress.”

Research backs him up. From Dale Carnegie to peer-reviewed studies, everyone says smiles matter. (In fact, to increase their power, smile slower.)

It makes us happier too. Neuroscience research shows smiling gives the brain as much pleasure as 2000 bars of chocolate — or $25,000.

Via Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act:

Depending on whose smile you see, the researchers found that one smile can be as pleasurable and stimulating as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate! …it took up to 16,000 pounds sterling in cash to generate the same level of brain stimulation as one smile! This is equivalent to about $25,000 per smile…

(To learn how to decode body language and read people like a book, click here.)

So now you come off as the pleasant person you are, not as a scheming taker. But what do you do when the other person is a scheming taker?

7) How To Deal With Someone You Don’t Trust

The name of this blog is not “Helpful Tools For Sociopaths.” I’m not trying to teach you to manipulate others.

But what should do you do when you feel someone is using these methods to try and manipulate you?

Don’t be hostile but be direct: ask them what they want. What are their goals in this interaction?

Here’s Robin:

The first thing I try to do is clarify goals. I’ll stop and say, “You’re throwing a lot of good words at me. Obviously you’re very skilled at what you’re doing. But what I’m really curious about… What’s your goal? What are you trying to achieve? I’m here with my goals, but obviously you have to achieve your goals. So if you can just tell me what your objectives are, we can start from there and see if we can mutually take care of them. If not, that’s fine too.”

I watch for validation. If someone is trying to validate me and my thoughts and opinions, I am alert to it. I love doing that as well. So now I’m looking for intent. Are you there for me or are you there for you? If you are there strictly for your own gain and you’re not talking in terms of my priorities ever, that’s when I’m seeing someone is there to manipulate me.

Want to build a connection with someone? Focus on trust, not tricks. That’s how you earn respect. Trust is fragile. And mistrust is self-fulfilling.

When you ask people what the most important character trait is, what do they say? Trustworthiness.

Participants in 3 studies considered various characteristics for ideal members of interdependent groups (e.g., work teams, athletic teams) and relationships (e.g., family members, employees). Across different measures of trait importance and different groups and relationships, trustworthiness was considered extremely important for all interdependent others…

(To learn how to detect lies, click here.)

That’s a lot more to digest than “Just be yourself” but far more effective. Let’s round it up and make it something you can start using today.

Sum Up

Here are Robin’s tips:

  1. The single most important thing is non-judgmental validation. Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them.
  2. Suspend your ego. Focus on them.
  3. Really listen, don’t just wait to talk. Ask them questions; don’t try to come up with stories to impress.
  4. Ask people about what’s been challenging them.
  5. Establishing a time constraint early in the conversation can put strangers at ease.
  6. Smile, chin down, blade your body, palms up, open and upward non-verbals.
  7. If you think someone is trying to manipulate you, clarify goals. Don’t be hostile or aggressive, but ask them to be straight about what they want.

(For more insights from Robin’s book, click here.)

Robin’s a fascinating guy and we ended up speaking for over an hour, so the above is just part of what he had to say.

I’ll be sending out an extended interview in my next weekly email update.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

To learn more from Robin (including the one type of body language that causes you to screw everything up), join over 130,000 readers and get my free weekly update here.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME advice

7 Signs You’re in a Toxic Friendship

Young woman in thought
Miroslaw Oslizlo—Getty Images

Breaking up isn’t just for romantic partners—here’s how to know if it’s time to cut ties

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

Filling your life with supportive friends is seriously good for your health. In fact, one 10-year long Australian study showed that participants with solid friend groups were 22% more likely to live longer, and researchers at Harvard concluded that happiness was almost “infectious” amongst friends who lived within a mile of each other.

Every now and then, however, a friend grates at your patience, sanity, and overall happiness. While small infractions often pass, or can be resolved by talking it out, sometimes it comes time for a friend “breakup.” It’s something many women dread or delay—but why do we hang onto friends that are clearly no good?

“There’s a social stigma over ending friendships,” says Dr. Irene S. Levine, psychologist and author of Best Friends Forever. “There are no scripts or rules, so people are at a loss for how to go about it.” If you’re in denial, here are a few warning signs to watch for. Recognize a friend in one of these scenarios? It might be time to have “the talk.”

1. She needs you for absolutely everything.

While a friend who depends on you doesn’t seem like cause for concern, too much neediness can exhaust you and use up one of your most important resources: time.

“Women tend to rely on their friends more heavily for emotional sustenance,” says Levine. “But if someone is constantly depending on you, that’s when it’s toxic.” That neediness can range from acting as her consultant on decisions both big and small, to, in more extreme cases, becoming her main source for financial assistance. We all lean on our friends for support, but if you’re persistently serving as her crutch, beware.

(MORE: 5 Inspirational Friendships)

2. You dread seeing her, and you’re relieved when she leaves.

Keep in mind: “Friendships are voluntary relationships,” says psychologist and self-help author Dr. Laura Sapadin. “Nobody makes you be a friend.” So if you’re purposefully ignoring her calls or trying to come up with excuses to get out of your lunch date, it might time to break up.

3. You’re both in constant conflict (and not just the obvious kind).

It’s not just about arguing all the time—although if you two have started to make the Real Housewivesseem tame, that’s definitely cause for concern. Conflict can manifest in other places—like your schedules. If your friend doesn’t make time for you the way you carve out time for her, then she might not value your friendship.

(MORE: 5 Ways to Win People Over)

4. You suffer from “friendship whiplash.”

Some toxic friendships jump back and forth between great and awful—that inconsistency can be a red flag.

“The unpredictability takes a toll on you,” says Levine. “It can make you anxious, nervous, or depressed when you don’t know what to expect from a friend whom you’re supposed to rely on.”

5. You’re experiencing “symptoms.”

Friendships can boost your mental and physical health, but bad friendships can do the opposite. According to Levine, if you begin to suffer headaches or stomach cramps after getting together or in anticipation of seeing your friend, the relationship is doing more harm than good.

(MORE: How to Make Positive Changes in Your Life)

6. She can’t see her own flaws.

Sapadin calls this “enaction”: You finally confront your friend for being accusatory and demeaning, and she fires back with, “You’re too sensitive!” A good friend should seem open-minded and willing to acknowledge problems.

“If the response shows they don’t get it, then you know this relationship is not one you want to continue,” Sapadin says.

(MORE: How to Look Good in Pictures)

7. She betrays your trust.

“Women get very invested in their friends because they share so much of their lives with them,” says Levine. So, when your friend betrays that bond, don’t ignore a gut feeling that tells you it’s a big deal. Trust isn’t trivial—and any betrayal is a sign to reevaluate the relationship.

Sapadin agrees: “This can abruptly end a friendship, and it only has to happen once.”

(MORE: 6 Office Wardrobe Malfunctions to Avoid)

MONEY advice

Help! My Friends Aren’t Saving For Retirement. What Can I Do?

Here's your chance to give your financial advice in the pages of MONEY magazine.

Did you ever want to be a personal-finance advice columnist? Well, here’s your chance.

In MONEY’s “Readers to the Rescue” department, we publish questions from readers seeking help with sticky financial situations, along with advice from other readers on how to solve those problems. Here’s our latest reader question:

What can I do about my friends who are 15 years from retirement and not saving for it?

What advice would you give? Fill out the form below and tell us about it. We’ll publish selected reader advice in an upcoming issue. (Your answer may be edited for length and clarity.)

Please include your contact information so we can get in touch; if we use your advice in the magazine, we’d like to check with you first, and possibly run your picture as well.

Thank you!

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TIME psychology

The Single Most Important Thing to Do Today if You Want to Live a Long, Happy Life

Friends talking
Abel Mitja Varela—Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Might sound trite or corny, but go see a friend.

The research regarding what it takes to live a long life and what it takes to live a happy life overlap significantly. One of the things they share is spending time with friends.

Harvard happiness expert Dan Gilbert says that what brings us the most happiness is family and friends.

Having a better social life can be worth as much as an additional $131,232 a year in terms of life satisfaction.

By allowing unobserved individual fixed effects to be factored out from the life satisfaction equation, an increase in the level of social interaction with friends and relatives is estimated to be worth up to an extra £85,000 a year. In terms of statistical significance, this is strikingly large. The estimated figure is even larger than that of getting married (which is worth approximately £50,000). It can compensate for nearly two-third in the loss of the happiness from going through a separation (minus £139,000) or unemployment (minus £143,000). It is also roughly nine times larger than the average real household income per capita in the dataset, which is around £9,800 a year.

Most of what we do to relieve stress doesn’t actually work. Friends, however, do take the edge off.

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

According to the American Psychological Association, the most effective stress-relief strategies are exercising or playing sports, praying or attending a religious service, reading, listening to music, spending time with friends or family, getting a massage, going outside for a walk, meditating or doing yoga, and spending time with a creative hobby. (The least effective strategies are gambling, shopping, smoking, drinking, eating, playing video games, surfing the Internet, and watching TV or movies for more than two hours.)

Can money buy happiness? Yes, but not how you might expect. Harvard’s Michael Norton explains that one of the most notable ways cash brings joy is by spending it on other people:

Connecting with and helping others is more important than obsessing over a rigorous exercise program.

What yes/no question can likely predict whether you will be alive and happy at age 80?

“Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to?”

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to? If your answer is yes, you will likely live longer than someone whose answer is no. For George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who discovered this fact, the master strength is the capacity to be loved. Conversely, as the social neuroscientist John Cacioppo has argued, loneliness is such a disabling condition that it compels the belief that the pursuit of relationships is a rock-bottom fundamental to human well-being.

The Longevity Project details a research project at Harvard that has followed 268 men for over 72 years, making it one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history.

What was the most important lesson the scientists learned?

…the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.

And, sorry: Facebook isn’t enough. John Cacioppo, author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, explains that technology is best if you use it to arrange face-to-face contact:

In one experiment, Cacioppo looked for a connection between the loneliness of subjects and the relative frequency of their interactions via Facebook, chat rooms, online games, dating sites, and face-to-face contact. The results were unequivocal. “The greater the proportion of face-to-face interactions, the less lonely you are,” he says. “The greater the proportion of online interactions, the lonelier you are.” Surely, I suggest to Cacioppo, this means that Facebook and the like inevitably make people lonelier. He disagrees. Facebook is merely a tool, he says, and like any tool, its effectiveness will depend on its user. “If you use Facebook to increase face-to-face contact,” he says, “it increases social capital.” So if social media let you organize a game of football among your friends, that’s healthy. If you turn to social media instead of playing football, however, that’s unhealthy.

And choose wisely. Spending time with fake friends — or “frenemies” — is worse than spending time with real enemies:

“Friends that we feel ambivalently about raise our blood pressure more — cause more anxiety and stress — than people we actively dislike.

Want to strengthen your friendships? Go here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY

Hey Millennials, Watch What You Say About that New Job, Promotion or Raise

Trophy shelf
DGP&C—Getty Images

Your friends may not be as happy for your good news as you'd think.

You earn a raise or a promotion, and the first person you want to share the good news with is your significant other or a close friend. It’s instinctive.

But these days, it’s best to proceed with caution—especially if you’re a Millennial. If your bestie isn’t doing so well at work, news of your big promotion or bonus could strain the relationship.

“Work trajectories are incredibly unpredictable for all generations working today, but particularly for Millennials in the early years of their careers,” says Lindsey Pollak, author of the new book Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders. “With young professionals leaving jobs more quickly and the barrier to entrepreneurship quite low thanks to the Internet, it is likely that Millennial friends or significant others will have widely disparate levels of career or financial success.”

Friendships can be tested when there are income differences at play. When one friend has a lot of money to spend on fancy dinners, shopping trips and lavish vacations while other friends are struggling to pay the rent, says Pollak, it can lead to disagreements over how to spend time together or, at the least, a bit of discomfort.

So how should you break the news of a promotion, salary increase, or job change to a close friend who’s struggling financially or career-wise?

First, take a moment to empathize, Pollak says: “Ask yourself what you would want your friend to say if the roles were reversed,” she says.

Then, try to give the news a more sensitive spin. Concentrate on sharing it in a humble way, says Pollak. And as a general rule, leave out specific numbers, like the size of your salary increase. In other words:

“I’m really excited—I just found out I got a promotion to the associate role I’ve been wanting!”

or

“It looks like I’ll be getting a nice bonus at the end of the year. Can I take you out for drinks to celebrate?”

rather than

“I am getting a huge raise—like $35,000 more than I make now! Can you believe it?!”

Depending on the friend and how close you are, you may decide that it’s best to stay mum. “It’s really a personal choice depending on your relationship and how public the news is,” says Pollak.

But keep in mind that not sharing can be just as hurtful, in some cases. “No friend wants to feel that you excluded him or her from your career news because he or she isn’t as successful,” says Pollak.

Finally, what if your significant other is the one who’s struggling?

“Characterize your success in terms of ‘we’ — especially if you are in a long-term committed relationship,” says Pollak. “And use your promotion as an opportunity to thank your partner for being supportive and helping to make your success possible.”

If that doesn’t do the trick, she says, “then you might want to look at bigger issues in your relationship.”

Farnoosh Torabi is a contributing editor at Money and author of When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women. She blogs at Farnoosh.TV.

TIME Etiquette

How to Break Up With a Bad Friend

End of friendship
Jamie Grill—Getty Images

Minimizing pain for all parties concerned is key

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

“Friends forever” is sweet to write in a yearbook, but sometimes we outgrow old friendships — and that’s okay. Devastating, but okay. It can feel like the very antithesis of friendliness both to recognize when a relationship no longer serves us, and moreover, to retire it.

Think of a friendship like a piece of cake. (Not that friendship is easy, but — just imagine some cake.) You can let it sit out and forget about it; it’ll get stale. You can stick it in the fridge; it’ll be fine for a while, but at a certain point you’ll smell it and you’ll know it’s gone bad. You can shove it in the freezer and preserve it; but not indefinitely — the quality will degrade over time.

The best option, the one that requires the most amount of care: set that piece of cake under a magic glass cloche. This cloche will protect the integrity of your friendship over vast periods, so long as you maintain it.

Thing is, you only get so many magic cloches. You can’t use them on every friend, nor should you. Not every friendship is meant to last your lifetime. And when a friendship expires, the answer, more often than not, is: chuck it. Eating expired food will make you sick. Struggling to maintain expired friendships will make you sicker.

What are the warning signs that a friendship is past its prime?

You and your friend no longer share the same interests or values. Your friend injured you in some way. You frequently feel harassed by your friend to be a better friend.

All of the above are indications that the friendship may have merely lost its luster, or, more alarmingly, turned toxic, and the course of action varies depending on the issue at hand. The common denominator remains: minimizing pain for all parties concerned is key. Good friends remain just that — good, kind, considerate friends — even when a friend breakup is at hand.

The Friend Who…Who?

This is a formerly close friend who really isn’t high on your radar right now, but for some reason, one or both of you feels obligated to continue going through the friendship-upkeep motions. Maybe you two travel in different circles these days, or perhaps you’re separated by great distance. This could be a friend who puts painstaking effort into meeting up, even though you two aren’t really in each other’s lives anymore. Or this could be someone who, when you run into each other on the street, the stilted catch-up convo always ends in, “We should get lunch!”

Could the friendship be worth reviving?

Hey, maybe you really miss this person. Assuming that she is equally into the idea of reconnecting, pull out your day-planners and go for it.

If not…

This person sounds like an acquaintance. And acquaintances are terrific! Acquaintances are a delight! It’s nice to know a bunch of different cool and interesting people! But you don’t necessarily need to designate time towards boosting a relationship that’s not actually there. If you’re the one who typically caves with the frantic “Lunch?!” suggestion common to random run-ins, be strong. Don’t do it. Who says you need to pretend you want lunch? It’ll feel awkward to not extend yourself, but if the other person isn’t pushing you into Let’s Schedule This territory, end the conversation with a pleasant, “So great to see you!” AND SCENE.

What if the friend won’t let go?

Okay, so you’re just not that into Friend, but Friend’s rooted down and ain’t going nowhere without a fight. She may not realize that you’re not feeling it. If she isn’t doing anything particularly wrong, ask yourself: is there any real harm in sucking it up and committing to the occasional get-together? This person may need you in her life more than you need her, and the only thing you’d be losing is a couple hours, plus whatever personal pep talk it takes to stick a smile on your face.

The Friend Who Hurts You

This does not mean physical harm. (Run away. Run to the police.) Rather, this is a friend who causes you emotional anguish. This friend has betrayed you, backstabbed you, badmouthed you, lied to you, or belittled you. Those violations constitute manipulative behavior, and are unacceptable.

There’s also a subtler purveyor of manipulation: the narcissistic user. This is a person who is so consumed with himself and the litany of his own personal problems and aggravations that the entirety of your time together is spent on him. He can’t see beyond his own ego to connect with you as an individual, and uses you to feel better about himself. You often make excuses for him along the lines of, “Oh, it’s cool. I just know I can’t talk to him about my stuff.” What you may not realize is that this friend is inflicting real pain on you by erasing your needs from the equation. You’re his gratis psychologist; you’ve been scammed.

Could the friendship be worth repairing?

Let’s focus on that narcissistic user friend. (As for all the other, more abrasive harm-doers? Ditch ‘em and run-don’t-walk to your closest MeetUp Group activity.) Say you confront him on his past transgressions, and he apologizes. But will he change? Do people actually change? The jury’s in, and the votes are split. Optimistic humanists believe that people can better themselves if they try, while those nihilistic suckers who’ve been beaten down one time too many reckon you can’t teach an old friend new manners.

Here’s the long and short of it: YOU can’t change your friend. You can’t change your partner, you can’t change your co-workers, and you can’t change your parents. Your friend, like everyone else, needs to make the proactive decision to change himself.

For those positivity nutcases out there (and I count myself among them), practice caution and allow the jumpstarted relationship one more go on a trial basis.

If not…

The first time you feel taken advantage of or used in any way, pull the plug. You need to protect yourself, and you are worthy of friends who treat you as an equal, not as their servant/therapist/parent/maid.

What if the friend won’t let go?

Being blunt in this situation may feel very scary, and the last thing you need right now is a confrontation that devolves into your now ex-friend berating you. If you feel like you need closure with this person, be honest as you say goodbye. But also be prepared for the backlash. It’s almost impossible to walk away from conflict with a narcissist unscathed.

The safer tactic? Particularly if this person is quick to attack you? Cut off communication, and surround yourself with friends who legitimately support you. This is the recommendation for those struggling to leave verbally abusive romantic relationships; why not adopt the same strategy with friends? It’s not cowardice; it’s pragmatic self-defense.

The Friend Who Guilts You

First, let’s make one thing clear: The Friend Who Guilts You is NOT the counterpoint to The Friend Who Hurts You. There is no cause-effect here, as these are two different scenarios. This is a friend who guilt-trips you endlessly, and, over time, you’ve realized you’re actually not guilty.

This is the friend who tells you constantly that you are a terrible friend. “You never call me.” “You care about your other friends more than me.” “You’re abandoning me.” She’s high maintenance, and you suck at maintaining her.

Her mopey whining is another version of narcissism, sure, but many of us are less likely to nose this type of manipulation out — particularly those who prioritize caretaking above all and jump to self-improve when accused of falling short.

Here’s how this typically plays out:
Your friend confronts you.
You’re confused.
Your friend accuses you of various transgressions.
You’re still confused, but feel AWFUL.
You apologize.
Your friend forgives you.
You make sure to be extra attentive to your friend. How could she possibly feel bad/sad/mad now!
Time passes.
Your friend confronts you again.
Rinse, wash, repeat.

Could the friendship be worth refocusing?

If this is a friendship that means a great deal to you, and you feel like you’re being the best-friend-you-can-be-dammit, tell your friend how you feel. She may not be aware that her actions or words are so reproachful and causing you such grief, or she may have her own reasons for behaving this way that she needs to air out.

In either case, it’s best to be upfront. “I don’t feel great about myself when we hang out together,” is a good way to start, and you’re right if you noticed that this strategy begins by placing the brunt of responsibility only half-accurately on you. However, when you elaborate, it will be clear that there’s something off-kilter in this dynamic that reflects equally on you both. Coming from an angle of, “Help me help you,” as opposed to “Sweetheart, you’re batty,” invites a minimally combative interaction.

If not…

This friendship may just be too exhausting, with two few checkmarks in the pro column and several pages worth of notations in the con, to prolong. In that case, I don’t blame you for hightailing it out of there. You should still attempt to be honest about why you’re backing out of this friendship; but she may not be a person who’s able to receive constructive criticism. Do not feel badly if your friend breakup is, shall we say, an ordeal.

What if the friend won’t let go?

She may cry. She may beg. She may remind you of the good times you shared. But the fact remains: if your time together is not productive and beneficial to you both, leave. There are so many other life-sucking aspects to your day-to-day — job-related stresses, difficult family members, financial anxieties — and you need to ration your emotional resources. A friend who spins drama like your Great Uncle Larry spins torturous yarns is not worth the headache.

Ending a friendship is no fun.

Period. For any of these individuals to have stayed in your life this long means you care a great deal about them. You’ve probably had some super fun/wacky/memorable/life-affirming/insert-applicable-adjective-here times together. Let’s not discredit the good when cataloguing the bad.

But if you’re expending energy on a relationship that just isn’t fulfilling, consider exactly what you’re losing by putting the friendship aside, and compare it to what you’re losing by muscling to keep it afloat.

Protect yourself. Seek out friends who support you and validate you, and I don’t need to tell you that it goes both ways, because, let’s face it: Anyone would be lucky to call you a friend.

Stephie Grob Plante is a writer and former worker bee in the ever-buzzing NY film/TV production hive.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Heart Disease

People Without Friends Have Worse Outcomes After Heart Attack

holding hands
Getty Images

The importance of friends for heart health

Without the support of friends and family, you’re less likely to emerge from a heart attack healthy.

A study in the Journal of the American Heart Association analyzed the responses of 3,432 heart attack patients on their levels of social support one month and then a year after a heart attack. One-fifth of them had low social support—meaning they felt that they didn’t have friends or family they could confide in or lean on for emotional or financial support—and during their recovery this group showed lower mental functioning, worse quality of life and more depressive symptoms. The effect affected men and women equally.

MORE: A Happy, Optimistic Outlook May Protect Your Heart

Encouraging social support isn’t usually seen as a top priority for heart attack recovery, but this is just one more piece of evidence that it should be: one study showed that within six months of having a heart attack, depression increased the risk of death from 3% to 17%.

MORE: A Link Between Anxiety and Heart Attacks

“We shouldn’t just be concerning ourselves with pills and procedures,” said Harlan Krumholz, MD, the study’s senior author and director of the Center of Outcomes Research and Evaluation at Yale-New Haven Hospital, in a statement. “We have to pay attention to things like love and friendship and the context of people’s lives. It may be that these efforts to help people connect better with others, particularly after an illness, may have very powerful effects on their recovery and the quality of their lives afterwards.”

TIME viral

This Owl and Cat Have a Beautiful Friendship

This video is a hoot.

Know that old bedtime story about the owl and the pussycat who sailed away in a beautiful pea green boat? This video is like a prequel to that song.

The camera captures an owl and a cat just chilling with each other like two good friends with nothing to do on a Tuesday night. According to The Telegraph, Cleo the owl and Forbi the cat struck up a friendship when they were young and impressionable and didn’t think it was weird to be friends with an animal that is normally your mortal enemy. They kindled their relationship thanks to sharing a home and an owner, Andre Costa, a Brazilian biologist, and now the two critters have become inseparable inter-species BFF. Since he posted the original video of this moment on Facebook on September 7, it has been shared more than 124,000 times.

It’s a beautiful display of an unlikely friendship that we could watch all day, while waiting for them to sail away under the light of the moon.

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