Cultures and countries around the world affirm the value of friendship. Increasingly often, people craft their own families by surrounding themselves with friends whose relationships mirror or altogether replace the relationships typically reserved for close family members. Friendship and all that accompanies it is often identified as one of the most important factors to living a long and healthy life, which often encourages friendship and close relationships to land at the top of the list when discussing how to inspire longevity and general well-being. To maintain health, exactly how important is friendship?
The Root of Friendship’s Role
Friendship serves a role similar to that of community in its support of health and wellness: a sense of connection and care. Friendships are vital for health and well-being—in fact, many studies have indicated that a life without friendships is one at greater risk for mood disorders and declining physical health—in part because they allow people to feel connected to themselves and to others, and to feel as though they are one part of a greater network. As social beings, humans thrive on connection and closeness, and friendships may provide a framework even more stable than family or romantic relationships. To learn more about friendships, read here.
Friendship also plays an important role in developing habits. Surrounding yourself with people who engage in healthy habits, such as exercising regularly, eating healthy foods, and staying connected to their community can help support your own healthy habits. The reverse can also be true, which reveals an important distinction between what does and does not make a healthy friendship: you mimic what you surround yourself with, so not all friendships are created equal in terms of encouraging health and vitality.
The Importance of Friendship Selection
While it has been thoroughly established that friendship as a whole is essential for health, studies suggest that the old adage about “bad” character corrupting “good” may have some truth to it: people who regularly engage with friends who exhibit symptoms of certain disorders, or those who use substances may be at higher risk of doing so themselves than the general population. Of course, it can be difficult to ascertain whether these studies indicate correlation rather than causation, but if you are looking to expand your network of friends, try to seek out connections with people who espouse your values and goals.
Setting Aside Time for Friends
While having friends is essential, setting aside time for those friends is similarly important. After all, the support of friendship is hardly visible if you rarely see or speak to your friends. While you do not have to have a standing brunch date with your friends each week, it is important to make sure you are checking with your friends regularly, even if that checking in is little more than a quick text to let them know you are thinking of them, or trying to make it a point to get together once a month. Setting aside time for friends should not be a source of stress, but should instead be a means of staying connected and making sure that you and your friends feel seen, heard, and cared for.
Quantity Versus Quality in Friendships
It may be tempting to immediately go out and try to develop friendships if you do not feel that you have enough, but the quality of your friendships matter far more than the quantity. If your existing friendships only number 1 or 2, but those friendships are filled with love and safety and support, you do not need to immediately try to widen your circle. Conversely, if you have friendships that seem to be practically pouring in from all sides, but rarely feel seen or safe, it may be time to try to dig deeper into an existing friendship. The quality of your relationships will always supersede the quantity, and the benefits of friendship come from relationships that offer support and care.