September 1, 2010

Are good friends more important than good grades?

As kids go back to school and focus on getting good grades and reaching for the stars, what's likely to affect them most in the long-run are the relationships they make along the way. Do they find a good spot in the cafeteria and form healthy friendships? Do they feel unloved at home and school is an escape? A study published this year in the scientific journal "Self and Identity" backs up the idea that most of our intense moments in our lives are based on our relationships and social interactions.

Apparently the co-authors of the study say this research goes against most previous findings.
Is this study actually among the first to show that our relationships with one another impact us more than personal goal-setting and achieving? Did all of the previous studies involve people who had never attended high school? Aren't most of us shaped more by people than by our own personal achievements?
Why does this make me think of the guy in our high school who may have nabbed a perfect GPA but never nabbed one of the 47 girls he asked to the Homecoming Dance? When we look back on the most harrowing or wonderful experiences of our lives, do they usually involve personal achievement or moments when we were affected by other people?

The study's co-author Shira Gabriel of the University at Buffalo said in a statement, "Most of us spend much of our time and effort focused on individual achievements such as work, hobbies and schooling. However this research suggests that the events that end up being most important in our lives, the events that bring us the most happiness and also carry the potential for the most pain, are social events -- moments of connecting to others and feeling their connections."

Gabriel and his colleagues, principal author Lisa Jaremka, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Mauricio Cavallo, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, ran four studies altogether including 376 people.

One of the studies asked college students to describe the most positive and negative emotional experiences of their lives. Most of the participants described personal events involving other people. Middle-ages participants responded similarly.

"What we find," says Gabriel, "means most to people are transformative moments in relationships, such as a marriage or a new best friend. But they're also the moments that tend to be the toughest in our lives - those when a relationship ends, or maybe when someone passes away or we feel betrayed by someone.
"When we structure our days and think about goals for the coming year, we need to remember to pay attention to our relationships and to the bonds we form with other people," says Gabriel. "Because when we come to the end of our lives, this research suggests it's those moments that we'll look back on as meaning the most."

(sources: "Self and Identity," UPI, The Vancouver Sun)

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