Friendships Are Key to Health, Happiness, and a Long Life
8 truths about building healthy friendships with yourself and others.
Posted Mar 15, 2019
The need for social contact begins early and grows in sophistication and specificity as we mature. No matter our age, we need to fully engage in the development and maintenance of healthy, intimate relationships in order to enjoy the healthiest and most satisfying life possible. Whether it's one good friend or a dozen, healthy social connections promote physical well-being, longevity, and optimal mental health.
We are social beings and function best when we have a team of friends and supporters around us to help us cope with the challenges in life, as well as to join us when we celebrate our victories. Even more important is the relationship we have with ourselves. The most important relationship we will ever develop is a healthy one with ourselves. Without coming from a place in which we are able to unabashedly embrace both our own virtues and vices, love ourselves unconditionally, and treat ourselves with patience and compassion, we will struggle to truly offer an honest and satisfying friendship to others. To keep good friends, you have to be a good friend in return. Here are eight friendship truths that can help you be the best friend that you can and words of wisdom shared by individuals who have learned them.
Laying a Healthy Foundation
- Love and honor yourself. Meet the needs of your friends, but do not make choices that compromise your own well-being. Friends need boundaries in their relationships and they should avoid overstepping those boundaries so that each person’s personal space is sacred and protected.
- Always offer the following golden quintet of personal qualities: Honesty, openness. confidentiality, unconditional positive regard, and non-judgmental spirit. As much as I love all of my friends, I am slowly learning that they are like everyone else and they are going to make decisions that I won’t always agree with. That isn’t quite a big deal in itself; it’s just a fact that I have to not take things so personally. I care about them so much and sometimes I can be the “mother hen,” so I need to learn that just because they make a choice that I don’t think is right for them or something, I can’t let their decision affect me if it’s not hurting them.
- Expect to reap from a friendship only what you have invested. Friendships require commitment and nurture from both sides and will not flourish without shared tending. Yet be sure to give without an expectation of what you want to receive in return. If friends are worth it, there isn’t anything too great or too small you can do for them. I’ve had my share of friends that walk all over me and take advantage of my willingness to drop anything in my life for them when they have needed me. These types of friends make you appreciate the ones that not only do you want to be there for but that you know wholeheartedly that they will be there for you when you need them.
- Be there for friends when they face difficult times. Recognize that even if your presence and a warm hug are all that you can offer, these gestures speak volumes to a friend in need. I was pretty young when I lost my parents and each loss was like a crushing blow to my heart. Some of my childhood friends who’d known my family really well seemed to not know what to say or do to offer comfort. I’ll never forget how much it meant to me when an old friend stopped by and said “I can’t imagine how much this loss hurts you, I don’t have a clue what to say to help you feel better, but I am here to let you know how much I care for you and want to be there for you.” That really said it all.
- Laugh with your friends at least as much as you cry with your friends. It’s important that you look to friends to share your joy, not just comfort you when you’re down. Laughter heals the wounds we suffer in this world. Let your friends be a part of the healing. Life has thrown me a few curveballs over the years, and having friends who are there to share my sorrow has been a gift. But the friends who also help me find the humor in life and who can share in my own joys are the very best friends I have.
- Don’t neglect a friendship that you believe is worth keeping. Make the friendship a priority. If it’s not valued as a priority, it will die and it is hard to revive the friendships we lose through our own lack of nurturing. In the same way that most plants need water to stay alive, friendships need attention in some form. This can be a call, an email, or a note with a picture tucked inside, an invitation to a special event, a trip to an interesting destination, or even a trip to the mall for lunch. Anything that allows you to express interest concerning what’s going on in a friend’s life and share what is going on in yours will work.
- Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. It is so important to keep in contact with those that mean the most to you…you must stay in touch. And if a lot of time has passed, reconnecting is often very rewarding and, in many instances, can pick up right where you left off. Shared experiences from the past are the stepping off point for reflection and current communications allow observations on where we have arrived in our life’s journey. Friends can be the source of great mirroring and collective memory for us. Communicate!
- Accept that friends and relationships shift over the years. If they’re worth keeping, gently shift in response. Even though we may grow into different people, we can still respect the foundation of trust that has been built. Learning to appreciate our differences is an important aspect of keeping a friendship alive.
O’Keefe, J. H., O’Keefe, K. L., & Lavie, C. J. (2018). Socially Interactive Exercise Improves Longevity: The Power of Playing with Friends. Yoga Phys Ther Rehabil: YPTR-152. DOI, 10.
Degges-White, S., & Borzumato-Gainey, C. (2011). Friends forever: How girls and women maintain lasting relationships. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.