Do not be misled; Bad company corrupts good character. 1 Corinthians 15:33
I’ve always believed that you are what your friends are. Not sure where or why it was instilled in me. When I became a believer at age 38, I learned that this was also biblical.
I have posted frequently about the value of friends in your life. All of them point to the benefits of having friends that you can count on. Sadly, in this day and time, the concept of friendship in the age of social media has gotten watered down.
The millennials and Generation Z have a lot of mobile “friends” who they interact with, sometimes almost constantly. Yet, in many cases, their interaction is digital, leading them to become isolated. Isolation leads to depression, and worse. The research on this is quite consistent.
I recently was meeting with Daniel, one of my mentees and a member of Gen Z. He is always challenging me with questions. I think he spends the time in between our meetings to dream up interesting questions. No matter.
His latest question was one that has caused me to reflect on it in-depth after we met. He told me that he had a lot of friends, many of whom he has had from childhood, but that he felt they may not be good for him at this point in his life. He wondered what, if anything he should do.
My answer, after consideration, was to suggest that he pick his friends carefully. I cited an old proverb that if one lays down with the dogs, he will get their fleas. I then gave him the biblical version of that which comes from 1 Corinthians 15:33, above.
Friends can be a good influence, or a negative one. I suggested that if he was interested in “upgrading” his friends to those who might have a positive impact on his life, he should consider striking up friendships with people that he admired, or who had skills that he desired.
Now I have found that neuroscience has confirmed the value of having the right friends. Moran Cerf, a neuroscientist, has “made a living studying how people make choices.” has now determined that choosing the rights friends may lead to a happier life.
The studies done by Moran suggests that we should focus on who we spend our time with. This science behind this suggests that our brainwaves “synch” with those we spend time with so that the brainwaves start to resemble each other.
I must pause here to note that science is now confirming biblical truth. The writers of scripture didn’t need a neuroscientist to tell them what is observable data of life: Having the right friends is important to maturity.
With this science as a backdrop, Phoebe Weston, in an article about Dr. Cerf’s research in The Dailymail, said this: “If people want to make life improvements, such as reading more or getting better at cooking, they should spend their time with someone who has those desirable traits.”
For example, choosing which restaurant to go to is less important than choosing who you go with. This was essentially, the advice I gave to my mentee.
Dr. Moran Cerf also suggested that we are better off not worrying about small decisions like what to wear or what we want to do. Instead, he suggests the important decision is deciding who we want to spend time with.
If we are on the same wavelength as another person, we can often anticipate what they are going to say, which helps us understand them better. Having been married for 51 years, this insight was helpful for me. There are lots of times that my wife finishes my sentences. Now I know how she does it.
The upshot is that people on the same wavelength work better as a team. Researchers have previously suggested that this “neural-coupling” is a key to improved communication.
Being on the same wavelength doesn’t mean that you think alike at everything. What I think it does do for one is that you will be able to understand more quickly your friend’s position or opinions. I think the old-fashioned word for this is “bonding”, but now we have a more scientific explanation on how that works.
Another study done by researchers at New York University and Ultrecht University found people’s brainwaves sync up with colleagues at work. They used electroencephalography (EEG) to record the brain activity of a class of students and their teacher over a semester.
The results showed that the more a student’s brainwaves were in sync with those in the classroom, as a whole, the higher the likelihood for the student to give the course a favorable rating. But, the study showed that pairs of students were more in sync in class, but only if they interacted face-to-face before class.
The last finding only puts more emphasis on face-to-face interaction (not through texts or media) in our lives and our friendships. These studies were done in the context of finding out what affects our health and happiness in life. Their conclusion is basically that it is wise to invest in friendships that make you happiest, but that investment must be in person and not through social media.
Dr. Cerf had one additional suggestion: do good for others. His conclusion that you will be happiest when you are doing something for others. It can be in the form of donating money or donating your time for others. The payoff is that this leads to reduced stress and a reduction in physical illness. Good stuff from an academic.
The studies also give credence to the expression of “being on the same wavelength” with a friend or colleague.
As I have unpacked these studies, I cannot help but think about the traits of the next generation whose friends are mostly digital. Face-to-face interactions are declining. The next generation is isolating themselves to their detriment, and often are not investing in face-to-face relationships.
The takeaways are multiple:
- Pick your friends carefully. Not all friends are beneficial to your maturity or growth as an individual. Choose friends that will help you advance in life. You can influence them in return. It can be mutual.
- Spend time in face-to-face dialogue. Texting is inadequate.
- Skip small decisions like which restaurant to go to and focus on who you go with.
- Get involved in serving others by volunteering.
- Seek out an older mentor that you admire. They are all around you waiting to be asked.
The challenge here is to encourage the next generation to invest in the right friends and go beyond a digital connection. Mentors should challenge their mentees as to who are their friends. The litmus test is whether their friends are a positive influence to help making them the best they can be with the gifts and talents that God has given them.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: You can be a great influence as a friend to your mentee. You can also encourage him to evaluate his friends to see if he or she might want to seek new relationships with those whom they admire or have traits or skills they desire.
FURTHER STUDY: The article on Choosing Friends by Phoebe Weston: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-5061965/Friends-key-happiness-says-neuroscientist.html
Another article in Inc. magazine by Chris Weller on the six important things you can do to have a stress-free and happy life: https://www.inc.com/business-insider/important-choices-happy-stress-free-successful-life-neuroscientist-moran-cerf.html
WORSHIP: Listen to Travis Cottrell sing “Friend of God” showing us that we always have one friend in our corner:
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