Friends you can go to when you’re not 100%? Friends who will cheer you up, share a laugh, listen to your personal stories with genuine interest, keep your secrets, always be there when you need them, overlook you faults and appreciate your qualities? Friends who you can be completely honest and real with and they with you in return?
If you do, you’re very lucky indeed!
Friendship: A Proven Source Of Good Health
Friendships profoundly affect our health.
A very interesting study of 308,849 individuals, followed for an average of 7.5 years, proved a remarkable link between social relationships and mortality. The research, led by the University of Cambridge, UK, and published in 2010, found that individuals have a 50% greater likelihood of survival compared to those with poor or insufficient social relationships.
That’s comparable to the effect of quitting smoking!
And it exceeds many well-known risk factors for mortality (e.g., obesity, physical inactivity).
Men and women who report loneliness die earlier, get sick more often and are physically more affected through transitions than those who say they have a support network. The deeper your social connections, the longer and happier you live. Intimate social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol. Research has also found that social well-being helps in fighting cancer.
It begs the question why? Why does having close friends improve our health so much?
What’s So Damn Good About Friendship?
Although the link between health and friendship has not been completely understood, there are some explanations:
Friends can directly influence our health behaviors
They can help us kick out bad habits (smoking, alcohol, diet,…) and create good ones (exercising, healthy eating, visit to the doctor’s, taking our meds,…) not just by giving advice and reminding us but also by sharing these things with us (running or gym buddies, going to a weight control group together, deciding to quit smoking together and holding each other to it,…).
Friends constitute a great stress coping and morale boosting mechanism
They listen to our personal stories. We can share our innermost thoughts with them without fear of being criticized or having our secrets revealed. They make us feel better about ourselves. They generally don’t judge us. On the contrary, they offer compliments. They boost our self-esteem and they give us a sense of personal control because we’ve chosen our friends.
Networking with friends offers us opportunities that keep our brain sharp and active
Friends networks offer opportunities for social interaction and social engagement that keep our brain sharp and active.
Whether it’s a sports club, a knitting club, a school parents association, a book club… being an active member means you’re meeting regularly with different people, exchanging your views, learning, organizing events. It gives you a sense of purpose and helps keep your mind active, which is good for your health.
We reap all these benefits if we’ve got good friends. If however, our friends aren’t the ‘friendly’ type (delinquents, prone to drink, smoke, use drugs or even just undermining) it works … in reverse!
Let Go Of The Friends Who Drag You Down
It’s important to choose our friends wisely.
In the same way good friends lift us up, energize us and make our life happier and longer, bad friends drag us down, sap our energy and make us feel unhappy.
Do you have friends who take more than they give? shoot down any positive idea you have? think about them and never of you? are a bad influence?
Distance yourself from them. Rather than putting your efforts into trying to carry these negative friendships, let them go. Instead, look for positive people who can become reliable and trusted friends.
A Few Tips For Finding And Nurturing Good Friendships
I’ve been very lucky to move from a large city to a small village with a thriving community. We know all our neighbors by name and help each other in many small ways. Some have become friends. We’ve also forged new friendships with like-minded people who had made similar life choices than us. A lot are parents from the school our children go to. Some are from regular activities we attend (football, karate,…) and associations/committees we’ve joined. Being French, I also set up a French circle with regular evenings which quickly turned into great social occasions. We’ve also made efforts to keep in touch with the friends we had from before – although, with the distance, it’s not always easy.
Here are my top tips to find and nurture friendships:
- be positive, you’ll attract positive people
- join clubs, associations that you truly like (not just to meet friends)
- if there’s none you like, create your own about something you’re passionate about
- take the first step (invite them for coffee, lunch, to share an activity,…) but take it slowly – you don’t want to scare your future friends off by doing too much too soon
- find activities you all enjoy and can share with them regularly
- be there for them (thoughtful, reliable)
- forgive their small mistakes – nobody is perfect, you make mistakes too
These friendships will make your life richer, happier and healthier.
Final Thoughts… Are Women Better At It Than Men?
The Cambridge research I mentioned above did not find a particular difference between men and women. However, other studies seem to have found a difference whereby women benefit more from the healthy effects of friendship.
The theory goes that men tend to have fewer true friendships – particularly as they grow older. They tend to have people they do things with (play golf, badminton, poker, watch football, network,…) rather than friends they can pour their heart out to. Doing things with people is good, it takes your mind off what it is that bothers you. However, it doesn’t help as much as actually talking about your personal issues and your feelings. Women are naturally good at that. They have a ‘tend and befriend’ response to stress that make them reach out to other women for comfort, share their thoughts and alleviate their stress.
What do you think?