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You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with

The title of this post is a quote attributed to American entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn. If what he says is true, it follows that if we want to change ourselves, we need to change the people we are around.

Many of our most important characteristics and worldviews are impacted by those we spend time with.

Do the people you hang out with make you a better person?

Many would agree that a person’s health (or the health of their family) is more important than anything else in life. A healthy pauper is far wealthier than a millionaire with a terminal illness.

Though all would agree that health is paramount, over 60% of Americans are overweight or obese. This is particularly worrisome given that many serious illnesses are associated with obesity. To help reduce your health risk, you should consider spending most of your time with people who have healthy habits.

Studies report that people with obese friends are more likely to be obese themselves. This makes sense. It’s obvious that if your friends are active you’re more likely to join them in strenuous activities. If the people you spend time with eat junk and sit in front of the TV all day, you are more likely to join them. If your best friend drinks 5 beers a day, your consumption is going to go up. If you want to change your health, try associating with those who live a healthy lifestyle.

Another important area influenced by those around you is your mental outlook.

I think most of us have certain family members, friends or co-workers that always see the bad side of things. Some people think others are always out to take advantage of them or that every situation is going to turn out poorly. Some think developing friendships is a waste of time since all people are jerks, lazy, or selfish. The people I know with this attitude are generally unhappy with life and it is best to associate with them as little as possible.

Contrast the grumpy people with those who never let anything keep them down. Some people I hang out with always have a smile on their face and brush off all the little Friendsinconveniences life throws at them. I’m happier and feel better when I am with those people.

Just like our health and mental outlook, our view of finances and consumption are profoundly impacted by those around us.

I was recently reading The Millionaire Next Door and the author wrote a lot about how where we live impacts our spending and lifestyle. I completely agree that where you live and who you are around colors how you spend.

I grew up in Menominee, Michigan and later in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. I’d consider both of my hometowns to be small, blue-collar, Midwestern cities. Most people are employed by one of a few local factories making between $30,000 and $50,000 a year. Six-figure salaries are extremely rare and are typically solely the realm of medical doctors. The wealth distribution curve is relatively flat. You would seldom see a Mercedes or McMansion and probably would never aspire to own one.

Since I have moved to Chicago (actually a wealthy suburb of Chicago) I have witnessed displays of wealth (and likely debt) my small town friends would find bizarre. I know people who live in 15,000 square-foot houses. I know people who drive $200,000 cars and wear $20,000 watches. I know people in their 20s making salaries of over $200,000 a year. Some of my friends own as many as 6 houses. If you ask these people about their socioeconomic class, they’ll tell you they are middle-class. If you ask them the average household income in Chicago, they guess it is about $80,000 a year. If you suggest they are rich, they will tell you about their friend who makes millions a year.

I haven’t yet been to a truly poor country, but I’m guessing that their view of wealth is different still.

If you surround yourself with people who spend tons of money, which they may or may not have, it is likely that you’ll want to spend too.

Writing this article has caused me to think about the impact of those around me.

It's easy to smile when those around you are always happy

It’s easy to smile when those around you are always happy

For the most part, we are stuck with the personalities that surround us at work. Unless you are someone who is looking to change jobs, your 9 to 5 surroundings probably aren’t going to change. Not only are we quite attached to our co-workers, many of us also socialize mainly with those in our profession. I know that is the case for me.

I have worked at the same place for the past 5 or 6 years and I’ve noticed that my patterns of speech have changed and become more like my co-workers. I have also noticed that my mannerisms have become similar. I spend my working hours with other lawyers; I meet with other lawyers before and after work. I am a lawyer in more than just profession; it has become a large part of my personality.

Because I am a personal injury lawyer, I have a unique perspective on many things. To me, the world looks like risk, liability and potential for financial harm. Every medical procedure endured by my friends and family conjures up memories of mishaps. Every time I see a child fall, I think of skull fractures and intracranial hemorrhages. Each sickness has the potential to be meningitis. I don’t believe normal people think like this.

Living here has also impacted my view on wealth. For the longest time I aspired to have great financial wealth. I wanted the same cars, boats, houses, and other toys my peers had. It’s only recently that I have come to believe those things would be huge burdens.

Lawyers aren’t a healthy lot either. We are stressed, constantly attacking or being attacked. We sit at our desks all day and many work very long hours. Many lawyers don’t eat very healthy either, since they don’t have time to cook for themselves.

I think I need to hang out with more non-lawyers.

Perhaps we should all look outward to figure out how to resolve some internal issues.

Think about an average day, who do you see most? What kind of people are they. Do you like them? Do you see yourself becoming like them?

Photo Credits: shstrngThe Next WebWikimedia Israel