Spouses, children, parents, grandparents, siblings--that's who we usually concentrate on, but it's our friendships that are the most connected to our well-being. We are never happier than when we are with our friends, according to research.
Friends: Keeping Us Present and Healthy; Keeping Us Sane in an Insane World
Friendships offer a massive number of benefits including:
- Mood boosting: Friends are often sources of fun and laughter.
- Accountability: You usually share your plans with your friends, whether it is to find a new job, lose weight, or go back to school. Friends help you to stick to it by checking in with you periodically for the latest updates on your progress.
- Stress reduction: Friends allow you to feel less lonely which helps shore up your immune system and keep you healthier. Being able to vent to a friend is a great stress reducer.
- Support through hard times: Whether it's a shoulder to cry on, babysitting while you go job hunting, or providing you a place to stay if your spouse kicks you out of the house, friends are there during some of your toughest times.
- Support going over that hill: Friends often provide companionship, resources, transportation, someone to celebrate victories with, and someone to commiserate with through loss of loved ones, retirement, and health issues. They keep you going strong.
- Helping you feel needed: Friends help each other all the time and that feels great! Having a purpose in life and feeling needed boosts the spirits.
- Offering guidance: Friends are a great source of knowledge and resources when you're faced with perplexing questions and aren't quite sure what to do. Whether it's finding an attorney, or plumber, or medical services, friends can serve as a wellspring of information.
- Making you feel as if you fit in: Friends are a great source of confidence. You can be silly, frightened, sad, philosophical, angry, elated, and okay, yes, stupid with them and it's okay! You can be yourself. It's all okay. They have your back.
Friends: Ties to the Past
While some people feel you should leave the past in the past, including old friends, there are benefits to keeping in touch with such friends. Here are some of many:
- Acceptance: Old friends accept you as you are. That can help you immensely when you face rejection of some kind.
- Hope: Old friends give you hope that everything will be all right. They know you and remind you of what is important to you, to help keep you grounded.
- Reminders: Old friends can boost your mood during troubling times by reminding you of the good ol' days. They can help you forget your troubles even for a little while.
- Crisis management: Old friends remember the worst of times, and how strong you were through it all. They remind you during a crisis that you are tough, and that you have the strength to conquer any obstacle.
- Shared history/milestones: You've gone through a lot with old friends. Hijinx, learning to drive, your first car, first dates, first kisses, teen angst, pulling all-nighters to study for exams in college, making the team, being cut from the team, first jobs, long talks that lasted into the night, moves, promotions, missed promotions, illnesses, marriages, children, lost jobs, divorces, deaths, insecurities, and more. It helps to have those people in your life who really know you, and understand where you're coming from. You can laugh with them; they make you smile. You feel at ease with them. They can relate to you. They "get" you.
- Memories: Old friends help keep memories alive. They knew your parents, a favorite uncle, the story of a wild road trip. They will sit with you to relive those memories, laughing and crying along with you over the old days. They may even arrange for a literal trip down memory lane in the form of a road trip back in time. That's something your current and more recent friends just can't do for you, by no fault of their own.
- Talking about anything: You can talk to old friends about anything. You know each other so well, you can finish each others' sentences. There are no secrets. There is nothing to hide. You are accepted fully and unconditionally.
Friends: A Road to the Future
Friends are a significant part of your life. Their influence on you is so strong that it can affect the life you lead in the future. Here's how:
- Thoughts and feelings: Friends can have a tremendous influence over how you think and feel about yourself. If you friends have confidence in your abilities and see you as a strong, intelligent person who can do anything she sets her mind to, then, over time, that tends to rub off on you and you adopt those views yourself. It is a wonderful feeling to discover friends who truly believe in you. There's nothing like it.
- Behavior and choices: Friends can also influence your taste in books, music, art, movies, clothes, and hairstyles, as well as choices of a larger significance such as whether to spend freely on vacations, electronics, and cars, invest your money in ways that could garner a healthy return or involve a high risk, or save a majority of if for an emergency. They also could have a hand in how you spend your time (sitting around watching TV, partying, volunteering, being self-absorbed, investing in your education, or hanging out in a dream world), the pets you have, whether or not you decide to have children or get married, and your views on social issues.
- Future friends: You may have a hard time trusting friends in the future if your past or current friends abused or deceived you. You may shy away from sharing too much of yourself. On the other hand, if you experienced love, kindness, and support from those friends, you may feel comfortable opening up to future friends.
- Health: Socialization is good for you. Good friends help you live a long and healthy life, according to research. They tend to relieve stress, which may help you reap many health benefits.
Important Qualities in a Friend
- A good listener
- Comfortable sharing and receiving deeply personal information
- Causes a warm, comfortable feeling after time spent with them; it was time well-spent
- Makes you feel like you can be yourself with them, say what you really feel
- Makes you feel safe
- Supportive and respectful
- Makes you feel like you can tell them anything, even private thoughts and feelings, and it will be held in confidence
Making New Friends
Whether you are new in town, shy, or just looking to add a friend or two, there are many ways to find new friends. Here are some tips:
- Look around you: Opportunities for friendships are everywhere. You could simply say hi to someone with a friendly face while standing in the check-out line at the grocery store, meet while volunteering at a local sporting event, or strike up a conversation with someone in the break room at work. The possibilities are endless. Be open to people, and you'll find friends.
- Be genuine: People can tell a phony, so if you want to make friends I'd suggest being real instead. Show people who you really are and you'll never have to wonder if you're attracting the right kinds of friends.
- Volunteer: I mentioned this above, but it bears repeating. Volunteering is a fantastic way to meet new friends. You already have one thing in common--volunteering. Visit with other volunteers to find out what other interests you may share.
- Take a class or workshop: Again, you'll start out with at least one thing in common with a classroom full of people. Seek out opportunities before and after class, or during break times, to talk with fellow classmates and see if you click.
There's no doubt that it is exciting to talk with people from all over the world via the Internet. I remember the first time I got an instant message from an old friend. I was over the moon that we could keep in touch across the miles so easily and so fast. It does come in handy in a world where people seem to be constantly moving around instead of staying in their hometowns like they generally used to.
But there is a downside to being friends across the miles. Despite FaceTime, Skype, and the countless social media platforms available, the personal, face to face connection is missing. You may be able to send your friend a "hug" emoji, but you can't hug them in person. Touch is a very important part of the connection between friends. You may be able to celebrate a birthday via Skype, but it's just not the same as being there. You can write about what's going on in each other's lives via email and messaging, you can send videos and pictures, but your friends can't truly relate to what's going on in your world if they never experience it themselves in person. So, it's important to make time for in-person contact as much as possible.
Don't let online contact replace in-person contact. Make an effort to visit your friends even once or twice a year if you live a considerable distance apart; more often if you live closer. Meet for coffee, go out to a movie, go for walks, go shopping, play tennis--whatever you enjoy doing together. Talk on the phone, Skype, or get on FaceTime between in-person visits to help shore up the feelings of closeness and familiarity. Messaging and email will help too. Friendships are vital to our well-being and they deserve attention. It takes an effort to make them work, but they are worth it.
Where did you meet your best friends? Are you still in touch with childhood friends? What benefits have you received from your friendships over the years? I'd love to hear from you on this.