How to Nurture Friendships
“Lying, thinking / Last night / How to find my soul a home / Where water is not thirsty / And bread loaf is not stone / I came up with one thing / And I don’t believe I’m wrong / That nobody, / But nobody / Can make it out here alone.” —Maya Angelou, excerpt from “Alone”
Since I was a little girl, I have had the blessing of many great friends. Some I am related to, some have been part of my life for decades, and others have been present for only a season.
No matter how long a friendship lasts, though, I’m grateful for how my friends and I share time and space—especially laughter, feelings of belonging and safety, growing, and love.
It’s impossible to imagine life without every person I’ve had the good fortune of sharing a friendship with. There’s been quality time, spiritual experiences, fun, secrets, adventures, listening, finding our voices, and shouldering each other’s burdens. Time has passed, but one thing is stable: my intimate, trusting relationships are as precious as ever!
What are the benefits of friendships?
There are many health benefits to having a strong social network. First and foremost, friendships relieve us of isolation and loneliness. According to research from Harvard that has spanned more than 80 years, people who are more isolated than they want to be from others are less happy and less healthy than people who have supportive relationships. Friends help us cope with loneliness and boost our happiness quota.
Casual friends help you avoid facing difficulties alone, and they make the happy times better too; these folks are your pals on social media, have a hobby in common with you, or might be neighbors or coworkers. Good friends help you know that your presence matters; these reliable buddies spend quality time with you and support you in the ups and downs of life.
It turns out that the joy we experience from being connected with others really makes a difference in our mental health.
The same study also found that supportive, satisfying relationships impact longevity more than money or health. So if you want to live a long life, investing in your friendships is key.
“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships have a powerful influence on our health… Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too… People who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.” —Robert Waldinger, professor of psychiatry and director of the Harvard Medical School study
In Italy, researchers found that social capital—the accumulation of an individual’s social network—is directly tied to life satisfaction. In other words, the more often friends saw each other, and the more satisfied the friends were with those interactions, the greater life satisfaction they had.
Finally, a 2017 study of 2,000 youth and young adults suggests that strong friendships allow us to better handle life’s curveballs. Moreover, while family support helps boost immediate resilience, friendships predict greater resilience later in life, while family support did not, according to the study. Friends help us be better at bouncing back from hardships over the long term.
How to Nurture Your Friendships
You can improve your health simply by deepening ties with those in your social network. To cultivate stronger relationships, practice a few simple social skills:
Extend an invitation.
It doesn’t matter the activity so long as you can spend meaningful time together. Consider a gardening or art project, interesting workshop, walk, or road trip.
There will be times when a friend needs your input, and other times when they just need a nonjudgmental ear. Learn the difference so you can support your friend appropriately.
Even friends need feedback once in a while. So let your friend know that they are appreciated. Send a text out of the blue, mail a postcard, give a small gift, or offer to help with a task.
Many people avoid sharing secrets, feelings, thoughts, or experiences because they don’t want to feel judged, vulnerable, or ashamed. But doing so with a safe person is precisely how bonds are formed. And a true friend will make you feel supported and cared for.
Friends come and go. This is just a fact of life, and sometimes it’s not in our control. However, if you have a friend who is treating you unkindly, dismissively, or disrespectfully, it’s time to let them go. Drop the negative people in your life and foster connections with the positive ones.
Friendships are key to a healthy, happy, and long life. So make the time to connect. Set a reminder on your phone and reach out to a friend this week!
Amati, V., Meggiolaro, S., Rivellini, G., & Zaccarin, S. (2018). Social relations and life satisfaction: The role of friends. Genus, 74(1), 7. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41118-018-0032-z.
Mineo, L. (2017). Good genes are nice, but joy is better. Harvard Gazette, April 11, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/.
Raypoleon, C. (2020). 6 Ways Friendship Is Good for Your Health. https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-friendship
Van Harmelen, A., Kievit, R., Ioannidis, K., Neufeld, S., Jones, P., Bullmore, E., et al. (2017). Adolescent friendships predict later resilient functioning across psychosocial domains in a healthy community cohort. Psychological Medicine, 47(13), 2312-2322. doi:10.1017/S0033291717000836.
Waldinger, R. (2016). What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KkKuTCFvzI.All Blogs