“Good friends are good for your health”
Medical and behavioural scientists have shown that people with strong social connections (friends) can lead to the reduction of many health problems, including depression, high blood pressure, and an unhealthy, overweight body mass index (BMI). Studies have shown that older adults who have meaningful relationships and an effective social support network of friends are likely to live longer than peers with fewer social connections and friendships.
Friendships have many benefits, such as they:
- prevent loneliness and isolation
- increase a sense of belonging and purpose
- improve self-confidence and self-worth
- help cope with traumas, such as divorce, illness, job loss, and the loss of a loved one
- help develop social skills
- help to give a reality check with attitudes and actions
- help to keep you young at heart and mind
- introduce a wider social network to people’s lives
- encourage healthy activities, such as exercise.
Tom Rath, in his 2006 book, Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, says that friends can affect people’s decision-making and actions. He says, if your best friend eats healthy food, you are five times more likely to eat healthy food too. Married people say that friendships are as important (or more important) than physical intimacy within the marriage. He adds, if you have a best friend at work, you are seven times more likely to feel engaged in your job.
Mark Vernon, in his 2010 book The Philosophy of Friendship, says that money does not buy happiness – friends do. He says that if we cultivate friendships, we can ‘lift some of the burden from our apparently unhappy, isolated selves.’
The quality of friendships is more beneficial than the quantity of friendships. One good, reliable blue chip friend is worth more than dozens of half-hearted or toxic friends. Blue chip means ‘of the highest quality’ – a friendship of high reliability, with a reputation for being able to continue in good times and difficult times.
Nurture friendships by having a healthy attitude to give-and-take in terms of time and effort. It is always healthy to let friends know that you care, even if you are not with them physically. The Mayo Clinic says that to nature friendships, practice the following:
- Be kind – every act of kindness and every expression of gratitude helps to nurture and deepen friendships. A simple, meaningful expression – like “thank you” – can go a long way.
- Be a good listener – listen and ask questions – lean in, maintain eye contact, and show that you are interested in them.
- Be open and receptive – have open body language when you meet. An example of closed body language is crossing your arms across your chest, because it symbolises that there is a barrier between you. Be willing to discuss your personal experiences too.
- Be empathetic – show them that you understand their concerns, especially in difficult times. You don’t have to solve their problems – it helps to listen to them. It’s often best not to give advice unless your friend asks for it.
- Be trustworthy – being responsible, reliable, dependable and trustworthy helps to form strong friendships. If you say you are going to be somewhere at a specific time or that you are going to do something, keep your commitment because this builds trust. Trust is difficult to re-gain if it is broken.
- Be available – spend time together, or communicate often – to whatever level is comfortable for both of you.
- Be willing to laugh things off – sometimes embarrassing or awkward things happen, or you say things you didn’t mean, so be willing to say “sorry” and/or laugh about it.
- Be willing to talk things through – if mis-steps become bigger than embarrassing or awkward situations, be willing to discuss the situation and share your experiences.
- Be willing to mix in diverse friendship groups or with a diverse range of individuals – try to get to know people outside your own inner circle, because it builds an understanding of other people. Friends come in all shapes and sizes.
There are alternatives to friendships with humans – such as friendships with animals or even inanimate objects (such as pet rocks!).
Friendships come in all sorts of guises: churchships, citizenships, colleagueships, collectorships, companionships, comradeships, copartnerships, correspondentships, courtships, cousinships, farmerships, followerships, kinships, mateships, memberships, neighbourships, parentships, partnerships, pen friendships, professionalships, readerships, relationships, schoolships, sibships, siblingships, sisterships, situationships, studentships, teacherships, and more.
Friendships can be maintained on different levels at different times – from brief to long, and from superficial to deep.
When friends come and go, you might find yourself without a long time, special friend. New friendships can be established by introducing yourself to neighbours and people at work or in place you go frequently.
Friendships usually start through similar interests. To meet new people, try these ideas:
- Attend community events – in every community, there are regular events and clubs and meetings and activities.
- Volunteer time or skills – there may be opportunities to volunteer at the community centre, school, local clubs, town-tidying activities, or with charitable groups.
- Join a club or group – there might be a book club, religious group, dance class, art sessions, sporting club, or activity group at the community centre where you can learn and do something new, while meeting new friends.
- Go for a walk – learn about your neighbourhood while you exercise. Don’t forget to nod or say “hello” to people, because the more they see you and become familiar with you, the more likely they will strike up a conversation with you.
Making, maintaining, and retaining good, positive, healthy friendships is difficult, particularly in times when other activities have priorities in your life – such as family, work, caring for ill family members, leisure commitments, constant travel, etc.
Friends who suck your energy, make you feel guilty, lead you into bad habits, make you feel depressed, or have any negative effects on you are NOT good friends. If you are over-giving and a friend is persistently and excessively under-giving their time and effort, it may not be a good and true friendship. Sometimes, you need to let friends go – temporarily or permanently. True friends will often re-connect and often deepen their bonds.
It is best not to expect that everyone you meet will become your friend. Some people like isolation and being alone – for long or short periods – to think about their own issues or for many other reasons. Friendships cannot be forced.
Friendships should never be forced or used for ulterior motives. Having friendships – large groups or a small number of individuals – does not mean that all your worries and ailments will be solved or healed. Having friendships does not necessarily address core issues.
“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.” – Muhammad Ali
“A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself.” – Jim Morrison
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
DISCLAIMER: This website’s author does not dispense medical advice or prescribe the use of any technique as a form of treatment for physical, emotional, or medical problems without the advice of a physician or psychologist, either directly or indirectly. Therefore, information provided here is not intended to replace readers’ existing or other medical, psychological, financial, or legal advice. The author’s intent is to offer general information to help readers in their quest for emotional, physical, and spiritual wellbeing, guidance towards self-empowerment, and/or for entertainment purposes only. Rainy Day Healing and Martina Nicolls shall not be held accountable for any loss which may arise from any readers’ reliance and implementation of any information provided. For information on courses and personal consultations, see TERMS AND CONDITIONS.