How to Keep your Friends and Still Study

Posted June 13, 2016

By Kristen Hamling


I no longer have time for sex, drugs or rock’n’roll! Instead my time is divided between Spiderman, doing dishes and regression analyses.

This can only mean one thing: I am the mother of two young boys who is completing her own advanced studies in psychology. Since I began eighteen months ago I have learned that achieving a degree is not a solo affair; your friends and family are along for the ride as well. It can be tough to balance healthy relationships against the demands of studying. To succeed, I turn to my superpower for answers.

Cue Positive Psychology . . .

My area of research is wellbeing. It turns out that the same topics I study can provide insight into my own happiness. By applying positive psychology to my relationships I have managed to stay connected to those I love. Instead of giving up on me, my loved ones provide me with lots of support and encouragement.

Specifically, I apply the useful acronym “PERMA” to my relationships. Let’s walk though these now… 

Positive Emotions

Families and friendships are like a finely tuned car, when everything is working well together you achieve superior performance. But to keep your car running well you need to keep it topped up with fuel and oil[1].

[1]Your car may need more than fuel and oil to keep it running well. Really, I wouldn’t know, I just liked the analogy. If you want to know about cars, perhaps go to If you want to know how to proactively protect your relationships while you study, then read on.

In a similar vein, to keep your relationships running well consider topping them up with positive emotions. This means having ‘fun’ together and getting regular doses of positive emotions. Do you remember fun, or have the demands of school made you forget? As a reminder, the Oxford Dictionary defines fun as “enjoyment, amusement, or light-hearted pleasure”. It’s something you do just because it feels good. Finding ways to have ‘fun’ and play with your friends and family, even briefly, can keep the bond between you. A playful snapchat, a funny Facebook post, a walk with a friend or a quick Nerf gun war with my sons, keeps the positivity alive in my family and friendship circles.

Do you remember fun? [Image: Cats fall on their feet,[email protected]/2404393... CC BY-NC-SA 2.0,


We are all time-poor nowadays—hey, some of us even time-bankrupt-- so we need to get the most bang for our buck in the way we spend our time with loved ones. Think about the types of activities that energize you and your loved ones. Personally, for my friends and I it is a D&M once every few months. But my husband is not a big taker, so if I want to feel close to him we will go for a mountain bike ride. By engaging with friends and family in a way that activates each of your values, passions and interests, you maintain a sense of intimacy, even when spending less time together.


There is no time for mediocre relationships while you study. Personally, I need all the support I can get. To reinforce positive interactions within your relationships, consider using a technique called Active Constructive Responding (ACR). ACR teaches people to respond to each other’s good news in an enthusiastic and capitalizing manner. Rather than, “oh that’s nice”, I aim for “OMG that is so fantastic, tell me all about it, how did you feel, and what will happen next?”

ACR is a terrific way to keep your relationships nourished and strong. Make every conversation count.

Meaning and Purpose

If you are passionate about what you are doing at school then share this passion with your family and friends. Show them what you are doing and why you feel it is meaningful and worthwhile.

I recently needed to practice for an oral examination. I bribed my family and friends with wine and a roast dinner in exchange for feedback on my performance. Fortuitously, I got far more than I expected. My friends and family became excited in what I was doing, they understood how important it was to me and why my study was worthwhile. This has generated far more support, patience and forgiveness of my social absences than I ever expected.


Accomplishment will mean different things to different people, depending on their mindset (growth versus fixed). For instance, a student with a fixed mindset is more likely to perceive a D Grade as a poor accomplishment, a sign that they might not be smart enough to complete the qualification. Whereas a student with a growth mindset will see a D Grade as a challenge, an opportunity to learn and do better next time. The accomplishment is more procedural for this student as they believe that hard work, overcoming setbacks, practice and perseverance is what leads to success (growth mindset), versus natural ability and talent (fixed mindset).

By sharing accomplishments with your friends and family (the good, the seemingly bad and the ugly) you give yourself the opportunity to see things from a different perspective. For instance, my father used to tell me that school is as valuable for the experiences you gain along the way as it is for the final qualification. He also used to say that all anyone could ask of me was to do better than I did yesterday; consequently my accomplishments are interpreted through a growth mindset.

Tap into the support of your family and friends to help you through the tough times, spur you on through the low times and celebrate with you in the high times. With their support you have a greater chance of interpreting all of your experiences as accomplishments, not just the good ones. 

PERMA Your Friendships and Family

So there you have my experience. Positive emotions, Engagement, positive Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and a sense of Accomplishment have all been used strategically to help maintain my relationships whilst I study. What better way to graduate than with the full support of those you love the most.


Kristen Hamling is a registered psychologist, having worked in the army reserve, private practice and with many organisations as an ‘expert’ on employee well-being. She has recently stepped out of her ‘expert’ role to learn about well-being from the first hand experiences of first responders (police, firefighters and paramedics) in her doctoral studies at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand. She aims to improve well-being initiatives for first responders.


Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.

Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity. Three Rivers Press (CA).

Lambert, N. (2015). Positive relationships. Retrieved September 8, 2015, from

Seligman, M. E. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. Simon and Schuster.