Click here to preview the new Fast Company

Want to try out the new

If you’d like to return to the previous design, click the yellow button on the lower left corner.

Why Your Friends Shape Your Happiness, Creativity, And Career

It's not what you know, it's where you are.

Living in places where awesome people live is awesome for you. For instance, if you live near folks you really love—your family, your BFFs, and the like—then studies suggest you'll be much happier than if you were all on your lonesome. As well, more and more research is showing that things we used to think were profoundly individual—like health and innovation—are actually quite collective: seems we can't help but be social creatures.

The most social of these social creatures tend to congregate in social places: you can call them cities. As Enrico Moretti, author of The New Geography of Jobs, tells the Creativity Post, your location dramatically impacts your creativity and productivity, since the place where you live quite literally determines who you can surround yourself with—in a way that not even the Internet can replicate.

Enter: The Brain Hub

Interestingly, it's the people who make a lot of the Internet that are most sensitive to this fact: as Moretti says, the reason you move from Ohio or Israel to Silicon Valley is "to be where the action is": you want to be surrounded by the engineers, entrepreneurs, and designers that are doing the same work you want to do. It's also why would-be fashionistas or financiers flock to New York, fledgling politicos head to D.C., and aspiring actors to L.A.

"When you are in the business of creating new products, ideas, or technologies," he says, "you need to be close to other people who are in your field."

In this way we get "brain hubs," places that contribute an outsized portion of the GDP and generate an unreasonable number of patents. This capital-ization has pretty far-reaching effects: the more high-tech, high-powered folks you have in a place, the more similarly gifted people will be attracted to moving there—and all these jobs actually generate more jobs. Moretti says that a high-tech job actually creates something like 10 service sector gigs.

But this isn't just a point of economic fascination: it's also something we can consider in navigating our careers and deciding where we're going to plunk down and get our work done. While the Internet is great for making loose connections, you're unlikely to help someone who follows you on Twitter find a job in the same way as you'd help a close contact—as one Facebook data scientist found.

The people we know affect us in subtly major ways: for one, they help us land gigs. For two, they shape our behavior: if you're someone who's endlessly assessing things, then it's a good idea to pair up (personally or professionally) with someone inclined toward action (though you may drive yourself crazy for a while). Third, they shape our ideas.

In this way, a brain hub isn't just a city, but could also be a company or a coworking space. Or, as Enrico says, a university:

The reason academics are so obsessed with who their colleagues are is not just prestige: it is productivity. The person that we hire and sits in the office next door influences our creativity and our thinking. This extends to private sector research.  For specific fields, the presence of a university is crucial. For example, in life science research, being physically very close to a university is important.  Being able to talk to the academics involved in basic science, attending their seminars, sharing ideas is crucial. Thus it is not an accident that biomedical researchers tend to cluster around universities. Imagine trying to be a biotech company in the middle of a state where there is no strong research university, you would feel completely cut out of the creative process.  Even if you can go online and have access to the same publications as everyone else, and see the same patents, you will still miss out on the element of the human conversation and exchange of ideas.

In other words, the same reason we offend people over email is the same reason we build more trust in person: in-person interactions are just so much richer than anything mediated.

Hat tip: The Creativity Post

[Image: Flickr user Steven Worster]

Add New Comment


  • Eladio Montero Porras

    I actually left my house, not because of what the article says, but it helped me in my learning process. Sometimes being alone lets you think a lot more, and focus on your goals, then on weekends I visit my family and friends. It works for me, at least.

  • jeffzx9r

    I'm actually very happy living in Ohio.....surrounded by my awesome friends and family.

  • CitizenWhy

    Don't know what to think of this. I have become much happier, healthier and more creatively productive since losing almost all friends, actually having only one left. And I'm an extravert - I like interruptions.

    But i do like my neighborhood, with walkable access to really excellent conventional and avant-garde arts, and research university lectures and panels. I attend alone. But I am am basically friendly. I have many random conversations with a variety of people during the week, and they are enjoyable. Having no expectations of others is kind of liberating.

  • James McC

    Maslow description of self-actualization matches what you describe. Maybe you're atop his pyramid.

  • aaron bowersock

    Maybe your friends weren't the type of people who shared your creative energy, but were solid friends. Cutting ties with energy not pushing you forward (not necessarily backward) let you grow more? You also moved to a place with more creatives... so the energy is better for you?