While many people use supplements, self-help books, or health care providers to help them stay healthy, they often overlook a powerful tool that is right at their disposal–friends!
Did you know that friendships and positive social networks can have a major impact on your health and well-being? It’s true. Good friends are good for your health. Friends help you celebrate the good times in your life and they support you when times are tough.
Friends may even have a great effect on health than a spouse or family member.
- increase your sense of belonging and purpose
- prevent loneliness
- increase your sense of happiness and self-worth
- decrease your stress levels
- allow you to express our emotions safely
- help you cope with challenging life events such as the loss of a job, divorce, serious illnesses, or the death of a loved one
- encourage and support you to adopt healthy lifestyles habits, such as exercise, eating healthy foods, and avoiding smoking, drinking, or taking drugs
A strong support system decreases our risk for many illnesses and diseases including:
- cardiovascular disease
- late-life dementia
What makes a good friend? Characteristics of a good friendship include:
- respect for each other
- trust in each other
- honesty with one another
- clear communication with one another
- support each other
- willing to compromise/negotiate
- don’t hold grudges against each other
- enjoy spending time together
- feel safe and comfortable with each other
- maintain healthy lives and other relationships outside the friendship
As adults, you may find that making friends or maintaining current friendships not always easy. Busy lives and other priorities, such as work, school, caring for children or aging parents, or health issues may cause friendships to fall by the wayside when other priorities compete with your time. Friendships can also suffer when you move to a different community, when your interests change or differ, or when you are not comfortable with meeting new people.
So, how many friends should you have? With friendship, quality is definitely better than quantity. Take time to cultivate a variety of friends and acquaintances and to nurture the friends you already have–especially those who have been with you during difficult times.
How can we nurture your friendships? The best way is to be a good friend yourself. Practice the art of “give-and-take.” Sometimes you are the one giving support and sometimes you are receiving it. By letting people know you care about them and appreciate them, you make them feel valued. Try these other ways to strengthen and nurture your friendships.
- Be positive. Nonstop complaining strains any relationship. Try to focus on the positive things in your life and in your relationships and be kind.
- Don’t compete with your friends over who makes the most money or has the nicest clothes or biggest house. Focus on talents and blessings and choose to celebrate good fortune.
- Respect boundaries. Keep confidential information confidential. Do not share personal information with others when a friend has asked you to keep that information just between the two of you. Try not to ask personal questions that make your friends uncomfortable.
- Accept yourself by cultivating a healthy self-image. Take care of yourself by eating nutritious food, exercising regularly, and practicing stress management techniques. Insecurity and self-criticism are not attractive traits.
- Accept others. Give your friends space to grow and evolve and make their own mistakes. Encourage them to freely express emotions without judging or belittling what they say or think or do.
- Listen. Ask what is going on in the lives of your friends, and then pay attention by the proper use of eye contact, body language, and comments that show you are listening. Try not to give advice unless your friends ask for it.
It is never too late to develop new friends or reconnect with your old friends. There is a saying that you can have friends for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Some new friends come into your life for a specific reason and help you through that time and then the friendship slowly fades. Other friends stay for “a season” or a little longer and when your life evolves or you change, the friendship may no longer be as important to each of you as it was in the beginning. Other friends are “there for you” throughout your entire life. All of these types of friends are valueable in your life. So take the chance–connect with others and meet new people. Your life will be brighter and better for it.\
It is important to remember that you cannot get all the support you need from your friends. It is not realistic or possible. Sometimes, you may need professional help. However, there are many ways to develop a network of great friends.
Keep in touch with friends on a regular basis through writing, calling, or getting together.
Volunteer or work with others on a project or hobby. When you get together with a group of people who have similar interests or goals, making friends often follows naturally.
Find a group of people with whom you feel safe, and share feelings, memories, dreams, disappointments, experiences, and humor. Start with one or two individuals at first, and expand the group as you are comfortable.
Listen to others, and allow them to share.
Give your relationships time to grow and evolve.
Get a pet. Pets can help fulfill needs for warmth, affection, companionship, and often lead to meeting others with the same types of pets.
Join or start a support group.
Get to know your neighbors and your local community by walking in the neighborhood, shopping regularly at local stores, hosting a block party, or joining a local health club.
Attend community events where people have interests similar to your own.
Take a class at the local college, join a spiritual group, or learn a new skill.
Take a walk, join a gym and attend class, or start a book or movie club.
Extend and accept invitations for coffee, lunch, or a social gathering. Contact someone who recently invited you to an activity and return the favor.
Join a chat group or online community but exercise caution when sharing personal information or arranging an activity with someone you have never met personally.
Join a faith community and take advantage of the special activities they offer.
Take some risks. Talk to other people first and don’t let the fear of rejection stop you. Stay positive and maintain a friendly attitude and others will find it easy to approach you. You may not become friends with everyone you meet, but you can improve the relationships you do have and begin to develop new ones.
Mayo Clinic. (2014). Friendships: Enrich your life and improve your health. Retrieved December 10, 2014 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/adult-health/in-depth/friendships/art-20044860
Parker-Pope, T. (2009). What are friends for? A longer life. Retrieved December 10, 2014 from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/21/health/21well.html?_r=0
Rice University. (2011). Friendship. Retrieved December 10, 2014 from https://wellbeing.rice.edu/friendship/