Have you ever experienced a shared moment of belly-aching laughter with a friend that left you fulfilled, loved and whole? Do you remember the comfort of sharing a fear or regret with someone you could trust for 100%? Then you know and have experienced the power of friendship and its positive and rewarding effects on you and your emotional as well as physical well-being. It doesn’t surprise us then that one of the five happiness dimensions has been found to be ‘building and maintaining meaningful relationships’.
Even though it is rather common when talking about connections to think about online / social media connections, those are for sure not the ones we refer to. True connections have nothing to do with your online profiles or the amount of likes and comments on your latest holiday pictures. True connections form the roots of your tree of life. They stabilise and ground you. True connections promote well-being by tapping into one of the most basic principles of being human: we are a social species and need a community to survive. Here are just a handful of ways how friendships promote well-being:
Friendships boost your sense of belonging
Having a friend makes you one party of a relationship, meaning that you belong in some shape or form to something, to someone. Spending time with your friends makes you feel accepted, included and valued. This sense of belonging fulfils a great psychological need and not just promotes your well-being through feeling connected but also by decreasing feelings of depression and hopelessness.
Friendships support your strive for healthy habits
This one works both ways. First of all can friends inspire you to pick up and continue with healthy habits by being a role model or offering encouraging words. Maybe even by actively helping you when things get tough. On the other side can friends voice their concern when they see you losing sight of your goals and aimed behaviours. They see or hear you on a regular basis and are in a great position to highlight changes or stagnation.
Friendships help develop your self-esteem
There is a reason why we often call our good friends our cheerleaders. They encourage us to strive for more, to develop and reach our potential. A great friend is able to celebrate your successes with you and listens compassionately to your problems. Being part of a friendship can be part of your identity and lets you derive meaning from it.
Friendships aid in lowering your stress levels
Seeing your friends on a regular basis increases the likelihood of frequent physical touch. A warm hug when greeting one another, a touch on your hand and arm, or a pat on your back. Being exposed to regular physical contact releases negative emotions like stress. Likewise, the possibility of unloading your ‘mental garbage’ onto a friend by venting for example for a bad experience simultaneously unloads our stressors as well.
Friendships actually prolong our life expectancy
Scientists have investigated the most profound contributors to mortality risks and could confirm that general aspects like age, gender and even type of medical problem rank lower than the fact whether or not someone has strong social connections. Some studies even suggest a 50% increased likelihood of survival for someone having meaningful relationships.
But let’s be real, not all friends are true friends, not all relationships are equal. A true friend connects with you via a two-way street. They not only take but give in equal measures. They think about your needs and wishes when making decisions affecting you. In a meaningful friendship one is there for one another even when it is not convenient. A true friend shows up, despite their own agenda or situation.
Somehow when we were younger it was so easy to find new friends and make meaningful connections. We simply had to show up in class or be part of a sports club. The shared experiences growing up created a natural bond, sustaining us for the years to come. When being an adult, however, finding and building those meaningful relationships has become harder and harder. First of all, meeting new people that seem interesting and are interested is a challenge in itself. But how to deepen a superficial connection that has the potential to become more is a different ball game altogether. What can you do to build those intentional friendships we all crave and aspire?
Accept yourself just as much as the other. We are all different and we all have different outlooks in life, needs and opinions. Respect your friend’s deviating choices while celebrating your differences. Being accepted for who we are builds the foundation of being free to show our true self, without societal restraints and fear for rejection. And then, only then, can we create intimacy and connection.
Care for your friend, for their ideas and opinion, their feelings and emotions, for their successes and moments of failure, for their development and growth, for their laughter and their tears. Listen to them, wholeheartedly and with compassion, and make them feel heard and seen. Care for them especially when they can not care for themselves.
Forgive your friend for everything they have done and everything they will do. Being a true friend means having trust in both your good intentions and knowing that even though things might have hurt you, they never meant to do so. Forgiveness is key to a shared learning and deepening of your relationship. We all mess up and we all need someone to tell us that things will be okay, even if they are not at the present moment.
Just be. Be present and give the gift of your time. In order to build a meaningful and intentional friendship we do not need to spend hours at end with each other or need to send 100 messages on a daily basis. Important is the quality of the time we do spend together. Time is precious and by choosing to spend your time together and really be there with one another, we show the importance and appreciation for our friendship that it deserves.
Love your friend with an open and kind heart. Kindness is free to give but has an enormous ripple effect of contentment, positivity and hope. Being kind is proven to support your own happiness as well as the other’s and it boosts feelings of confidence and optimism. Likewise being kind encourages your friend to copy your behaviour and thus spreads positivity farther than just between the two of you.
Friends enrich our lives. It is so much more fun to celebrate our greatest moments together and so much more comforting to share our deepest fears. Both laughter and tears become more meaningful and memorable when experienced with a true friend and life’s challenges and obstacles become just that much more bearable and surmountable when knowing that you are not alone. Friends are like a mirror to ourselves and when chosen wisely, they support you in every step you take.
What about you? Do you have a true friend that you can count on whatever the situation? Someone you trust blindly and that only needs to look at you to know what is going on? Someone you turn to when things get rough and someone you want at your side to just live life? Forward this post to them and tell them how much you appreciate and give thanks to your friendship.