Dozens of studies reveal that children’s popularity can be measured reliably by age 3, and it remains remarkably stable not just through the next dozen years of primary and secondary education but also across contexts, as they move from community to community and into adulthood.
Yet this same research reveals that there is more than one type of popularity, and most of us may be investing in the wrong kind. Likability reflects kindness, benevolent leadership and selfless, prosocial behavior. Research suggests that this form of popularity offers lifelong advantages, and leads to relationships that confer the greatest health benefits.
Likability is markedly different from status — an ultimately less satisfying form of popularity that reflects visibility, influence, power and prestige. Status can be quantified by social media followers; likability cannot.
Anyone who has been to high school will recognize the distinction — and recall that those high in one category are often low in the other. Research suggests that despite the great temptations to gain status, those who achieve it ultimately experience greater unhappiness and dissatisfaction, while those who are likable have far greater satisfaction and success.
We may be built by evolution to care deeply about popularity, but it’s up to us to choose the nature of the relationships we want with our peers.
Which means that it wouldn’t kill you to step away from Twitter once in a while.
Mitch Prinstein writing in the New York Times