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The Health Benefits of True Friendship

The importance of maintaining strong friendships.

I recently went to a monthly meeting of the group Finding Meaning in Medicine, which is a group of physicians who gather together to remind each other why we are in service and who we are. The topic we discussed this month was friendship.

One person brought this to share.

The Definition of A True Friend

  • The tendency to desire what is best for the other
  • Sympathy and empathy
  • Honesty, perhaps in situations where it may be difficult for others to speak the truth, especially in terms of pointing out the perceived faults of one's counterpart
  • Mutual understanding and compassion; ability to go to each other for emotional support
  • Enjoyment of each other's company
  • Trust in one another
  • Positive reciprocity — a relationship is based on equal give and take between the two parties.
  • The ability to be oneself, express one's feelings and make mistakes without fear of judgment.

The Health Benefits Of Friendship

It made me consider my friendships and whether I’m as good a friend as I could be. We all know that feeling connected to those you love and having intimate friendship leads to a happier life. But did you know it also makes you healthier?

While writing this book, I’ve realized that I have to expand the definition of health. It’s not enough to just eat your veggies, move your body, get enough sleep, and follow doctor’s orders. Many other factors contribute to your overall health, and friendship is one of them.

The research I’m doing for my book, Mind Over Medicine, shows that people with a close network of friends live longer, have healthier brains, survive breast cancer better, survive heart disease better, and get fewer colds.

But how many of us really think about our friendships when we consider what it means to be healthy?

A Friendship Practice

In my line of work as a blogger, social media junkie, public speaker, and doctor, I communicate with as many as hundreds of people every day. Some of these people are already friends. Some become friends. And some are people I’ve never met and probably never will. It really blurs the line for me regarding who my true friends really are, and I worry that sometimes I spend so much time interacting with (and genuinely loving) strangers that I fail to be as present as I want to be with my true friends.

When my friends need something, I’ll drop everything for them. But when they don’t write or call, I have to admit that sometimes I get so busy they slip my mind, and months - sometimes even years - can go by without any communication.

I wanted to change this.

So I’ve started a friendship practice to help me be more mindful of the friends I really love, my inner circle posse of awesome. I wrote all their names on a list and placed the list on my altar, where I meditate every day, so every day I will think of these people at least once. I’m hoping that focusing my attention on those I love will help me be a better friend. Maybe it’ll even help my friends feel more loved, connected, and healthy.

As a wise, unnamed person once said, “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”

I want to know the songs in the hearts of those I love.

Are You A Good Friend?

Are you there for the friends in your life? Do you feel comfortable being vulnerable and open with them? Do you ask for what you need from your friends? Do you give them what they need? Do you know the song of a friend’s heart? Do they know yours?