It’s a topsy-turvy world out there. We all have insane schedules, whether because of spouses and kids, hectic professional lives, long commutes, health issues, money issues, the list goes on and on. We all try to stay in touch with our families as best we can. But who among us has not forgotten or neglected that special person in our lives, our sister? Whether your relationship with your sister is strained or perfectly happy, never forget, one day she came into the world, making you a better person for it. And a better person in many ways, proven in research even, that you may not even realize.
Well this article is to drive home one important message, for different reasons—if you do one thing all year, remember that day your sister was born. Give her a call, say happy birthday, sister. There are more reasons she’s important to you than you may think:
1. Studies show people with sisters are happierHaving even one girl sibling in a family makes the rest of the siblings happier, according to one study. A 2009 survey conducted at the University of Ulster found that people who have a sister have a better sense of well-being, calm and a stronger ability to cope with problems. This sense of overall balance contrasted with a more distressed feeling in families with just brothers.
In the survey, the subjects reported that sisters brought a greater sense of openness and emotional connection, and the family reported being better able to share emotions and cope as a family. This effect was especially important in families where there was some kind of family struggle or trauma involved.
In one linguistics professor’s research in 2010, she found that phone conversations with sisters were more common, whether about day-to-day trivialities or deeper emotional matters. She suspects the frequency of talking among sisters is key to why there is that greater sense of comfort and well-being. So call and say happy birthday. She won’t be the only happy one.
2. Surveys show sisters make us better people.A similar 2010 study in Washington State by Brigham Young University found that just by having a sister, people were less depressed, but also were kinder, gentler people. In fact, even though people reported fighting and struggling with their siblings, the emotional connection felt led them to experience “less delinquency and more pro-social behaviors like greater kindness and generosity, volunteering and helping others.”
They found the link between sisterly love and good deeds was twice as strong as that between parental love and good deeds.
The researchers found similar results as the study above, that the act of talking about things led to better emotional health. In this case, fighting, bickering, torturing between siblings were all were beneficial as long as affection was there. It allowed the subjects to develop the skills to deal with emotions. Not only that, the lead on the study, Laura Padilla-Walker, also noted the strength of the sibling bond over a lifetime.
“Sibling relationships are the most enduring relationships people have. Parents die and you don’t meet your spouse until later in life. So throughout life, siblings really remain important.”
So when you say happy birthday to your sister, you’re also celebrating the day when you started being a more virtuous person.
3. Relax, your sister has your back.Genetically speaking, that is. There’s a theory in evolutionary biology that explains why in multiple species, siblings seem to sacrifice their own survival and procreation if it means the survival and procreation of another sibling. The theory isn’t airtight, but “kin selection theory” is widely accepted and seen in nature among humans and in the wild. The idea is that siblings share much of the same genetic material, so the survival of one is equivalent to the survival of the other, in an evolutionary sense.
For example, in certain primate communities, animals care for each other in a mothering way, but once the relation is further removed than that of a half-sibling, the bias for protecting the other drops dramatically. And in ground squirrels, certain individuals will shout warning cries when a predator is near, even though it exposes itself to danger by doing so. The warning cries are more common in the presence of siblings.
Even plants exhibit sibling protection. Studies have found that plant species, when in the same soil as others that grew from the same seed, grow less extensive root systems, making them less competitive for nutrients. Next to “stranger” plants, the plant will grow more horizontal roots to be more competitive. In the “sibling” scenario, all plants thrived more. The siblings didn’t have to fight each other in the dirt for survival, so they were able to sprout and grow strong above ground.
And among studies of human siblings, there’s a perceived preference for altruism toward siblings. For example, siblings tend to live together, give each other better holiday gifts, and in isolated tribal situations, share food with each other. So that time your sister brought you over a pan of lasagna from across town was an example of centuries-old biological tendency to protect your special bond—shared genetic material.
So there you have it. Science, both in studies of humans, animals and plants, has spoken. Your sister made you the person you are, whether you fought like crazy, went through family trauma or just call each other up now and then to say hi. And whether either of you are aware of it, you’re hardwired to care for and protect each other.
So next time your sister celebrates her birthday, she’s basically celebrating one half of your own shared, unique life. So give your sister a call on her birthday, send her a birthday card, but no matter what, say Happy Birthday, sister. You owe her.