Duh: Study Finds High School Popularity Doesn’t Lead To Long-Term Happiness

August 24, 2017  |  

Black student reading in front of lockers

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Blame it on John Hughes or an obsession with youth and shared experiences, but our country seems to have an obsession with high school and the things that transpire there. I was not immune to it. I’d seen the movies and had all these expectations and questions about what high school would be like.

And once I got over the newness of it, I realized that it just wasn’t a big deal. I wasn’t going to look back at those years and realize they were some defining points in my life. Obviously ever life experience builds upon the last or has some significance but when I think about big moments in my life, a lot of them take place during elementary, middle school and college. High school is a blur.

But I know that wasn’t the case for everyone. I remember watching my peers become obsessed or infatuated with popularity. And I won’t pretend that certain symbols of acceptance and belonging weren’t important to me. But there was such an extremeness when it came to my peers that I didn’t quite understand. For example, I literally remember being horrified to see a middle school friend, turned high school associate shed real tears when she wasn’t elected prom queen. If this had happened in the early nineties maybe I would have understood her feelings. But we had movies like She’s All That and Mean Girls to tell us not to put so much stock in titles that literally mean nothing within a few hours.

It was fascinating to watch then and so it’s interesting to learn now what social scientists have to say about high school popularity.

According to a new study in the journal of Child Development called “Close Friendship Strength and Broader Peer Group Desirability as Differential Predictors of Adult Mental Health,” it [popularity] doesn’t do much to help your state of well-being throughout life.

My eighth grade math teacher told us as much before we graduated. “People who say high school was the best time of their life, didn’t do anything with the rest of it.”

The study revealed that high school students who had a wide pool of friends tended to struggle with more symptoms of depression and anxiety than those who had a few, close friendships.

Researchers at the University of Virginia conducted a 10-year study that followed 169 high school students from age 15-25. Those who had a smaller friend group had a “relative uptick in self-worth and fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety by age 25.” Those who had more friends were more likely to experience social anxiety in early adulthood.

The study continued, “Youth with higher levels of attachment to their best friends appear to have better psychological health, psychosocial adjustment, and even a more adaptive stress response during adolescence,” the study concludes. “In general, adolescents with high-quality close friendships report higher rates of overall happiness than those without.”

The results of this study are only interesting because they prove and tried and true belief when it comes to relationships. Quality over quantity. And life is so much bigger than what happens in high school.

Veronica Wells is the culture editor at MadameNoire.com. She is also the author of “Bettah Days.” You can follow her on Facebook and on Instagram and Twitter @VDubShrug.

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