Self Improvement — 03 May 2015
The Many Benefits of Having Good Friends

Being socially connected to others is an instinctual human need in service of our health and wellbeing. It propels us to cultivate social bonds throughout our lives. Though the process of developing and maintaining friendships is not always easy, those who do so are well rewarded.

Most adults remember the importance of having friends during their growing up years. Having a circle of friends in school was imperative to our identity, sense of worthiness, security, a gauge of our popularity, desirability and wellbeing. Youngsters who were less connected or excluded from certain social activities were often sad, alone and lonely. They may have dreaded going to school since their isolation was painful and maintaining their self-esteem was most challenging.

In “Social Isolation in America” the researchers found that “from 1985 to 2004, the number of Americans who had someone with whom they can discuss important matters dropped by nearly one-third. And the number of people who said they had no one they could discuss such matters with was tripled to nearly 25%.” This type of social isolation is conducive to developing depression, apathy, and fatigue and makes the individual more susceptible to various illnesses.

The benefits of friendships during adulthood were succinctly described by wise sages’ quotes. The Spanish Philosopher Baltasar Gracian wrote, “True friendship multiplies the good in life and divides its evils. Strive to have friends, for life without friends is like life on a desert island… to find one real friend in a lifetime is good fortune; to keep him is a blessing.”

The French novelist Marcel Proust stated, “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

William Penn defined the habits of a good friend: “A true friend advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably.

Medically, an Australian study at Flinders University that followed nearly 1,500 older people for 10 years found that those who had a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by 22%.

A study at the University of Virginia took 34 students to the base of a steep hill. They were fitted with weighted backpacks. They were asked to estimate the steepness of the hill. The students who stood next to friends estimated the hill to be less steep than those who stood alone. The longer the friends had known each other, the less steep the hill appeared to them.

Karen A. Roberto, director of the center for gerontology at Virginia Tech stated, “Friendship is an undervalued resource. The consistent message of our studies is that friends make your life better.”

To make your life better:

  • Accept that good friends not only enhance the quality of your life but also extend your years.
  • Abstain from negative self-talk that highlights the hardships of maintaining friendships.
  • Invest the energy in cultivating and preserving friendships for your physical and emotional wellbeing and for your longevity.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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