Friends with Benefits

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Jo has been walking her elderly friend’s dog on a daily basis for four years now. Jo and her own dog are an active team who enjoy the extra company. The arrangement works well because the friends live nearby and their daily connection supports both of them in a whole range of ways. A lasting bond of friendship has formed through their mutual love of dogs. A sense of belonging is a central need for humans and there’s no doubt that pets can bring people together. Dog clubs and groups, neighbourly exchanges involving pet care, dog walking and lost and found animals have people connecting on a daily basis. We know that pets increase feelings of well-being for people who live alone or the elderly or individuals facing significant stress in their lives. But what about people who don’t feel socially isolated or under stress – do they reap the same benefits from pet ownership? These were the questions that researchers in the US set out to test. Over three separate studies, the researchers concluded that everyday people benefit from their pets in much the same way they do from their friends. On average pet owners were less lonely, had higher self-esteem and exercised more than non-pet owners. They also found that fulfilment from pets was beneficial no matter how much support the owners were already getting from other people. Pets are a boost to well-being, regardless of human companionship. People can gain joy and meaning from their pets even when they already have other friends and family caring about them. The findings support the idea that pets complement other forms of social support rather than compete with them.

Source: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology July 2011

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