Updated: Feb 22
Defined as a relationship of mutual affection between people, friendship has its own category in the type of love humans are capable of (the Greeks called it Philia) . The bond is distinctively personal, stronger and more intimate than someone you would consider an acquaintance, like a neighbour or your favourite barista.
"A real friend is one who walks in
when the rest of the world walks out."
- Walter Winchell, Broadway Reporter, New York Critic and Columnist
Friendships are invaluable at any point in your life, but more so during a time of isolation like long cold winters and pandemics. There are numerous reasons to nurture friendships. They can:
Offer mutual companionship – you are not alone!
Help you celebrate the good times
Support you through the bad times
Be your personal cheerleader - they encourage you through life and build you back up when your self-esteem takes a hit
Increase your sense of belonging, community and purpose
Arouse joy, happiness and improve your quality of life
Encourage growth and trust
Enhance your self-confidence and self-worth
Help you when life turns an unexpected corner – like divorce, illness, job loss or the death of a loved one
Keep you healthy
Yes, friends can keep you healthy! Simply stated, socially connected people live longer. Okinawa Japan is well known for their centenarian population. There they have a time-honoured tradition called moai –a kind of social network. As children, a group of five are gathered together who then commit friendship to each other for the remainder of their lives. Some moais have lasted more than ninety years. Moais meet every day, or nearly every day and play, chat, share advice, and generally support each other – emotionally, socially, spiritually and even financially – throughout their lifetime. The whole group celebrates and benefits when things go well like a plentiful farming season, and support each other when someone is struggling, a child gets sick or a loved one dies. They also appear to positively impact healthy behaviours - another reason they live such long active lives.
"Good friends help you find
important things when you have lost them
- your smile, your hope and your courage."
- Doe Zantamata, Author
A word of caution around the influence of friends and health. The opposite can also be true. If you belong to a group of friends that prefer to remain sedentary, eat fast foods and overindulge in alcohol, that will also have an impact on your health, but not for the better. But friends can also encourage each other to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits and keep each other accountable and on track.
Studies have found friendship and a strong social support may actually have a bigger positive impact on health than a romantic relationship. Some of the findings include:
Reduced risk towards sadness and depression
Lowered blood pressure and heart rate
Overall stress reduction
Positive peer support
Improved unhealthy BMI (body mass index)
Likely to live longer than peers with fewer connections
"We are not the same persons this year as last;
nor are those we love.
It is a happy chance if we,
changing, continue to love a changed person."
- William Somerset Maugham, Playwright & Novelist
Life changes and so do we. Familiar childhood friend-circle, or work chums from previous jobs, may acquire new lives and interests along their journey and now you find you have less in common. Things evolve. That’s okay. It’s not the quantity of friends that’s important, it’s the quality. Isn’t it better to build a social support group you know has your back no matter what vs. a bunch of fair-weathered comrads? Establishing and fostering healthy relationships is the cornerstone to building a symbiotic foundation of physical well-being and a healthy emotional state of mind.
"Most of us are as guilty as scientists of failing
to take friendship as seriously as it deserves.
We pay lip service to it but prioritize family and romance,
ditching our friends when we fall in love or
letting time with them be the first thing to go when we get busy."
- Lydia Denworth, Author
No doubt about it, nurturing relationships takes an investment of time and energy – not for nothing is it referred to as ‘sowing the seeds of friendship’. But there are times that friends take a back seat to other life priorities such as work and taking care of children or aging parents. But think of all you gain in the long run - isn’t putting in the effort worth it?
You may already have a solid groundwork of friends, or perhaps a BFF. Consider yourself fortunate. Touch base and let them know how much you care – it can only strengthen your bond.
But, if you’ve let friends fade away into the background, or perhaps let the small things in life like arguments or petty misunderstandings tatter a perfectly good relationship, then you may need to make the first move – but take the initiative and reach out - the benefits to yourself and those you reach out to will not simply add up, they will multiply:
Make a list of all the important people in your life – those who helped shape who you are as a person today – and remember 'friends' doesn't just refer to people unrelated to you. They could be your parents, siblings, significant other, children, in-laws, extended family members, kind neighbours, that work buddy that is sometimes the only thing that gets you through the day – you get the gist. Don’t forget the old friends that you’ve allowed to slip away. Identify how and why this person adds or added value to your life. Ask yourself how they enhance your world; you may even come to the realization that one or two don't contribute positively to your life, but in fact drains your energy – a blog for another day.
Every day for the next thirty days, challenge yourself to reconnect with a person on that list. The challenge, is to do it without typing a word. Media is both a blessing and a curse. It successfully keeps long distance relationships close to the heart as people post photos and videos of extended family and friends sharing celebrations like weddings and newborns. This is a notable resource at the best of times, but especially in today’s uncertain world of pandemic. But....
Make sure you use your outside voice. Pick up the phone and call, do a face-to-face using any variety of the apps available at the press of a download button, or arrange for a video chat through Zoom. This may take some preplanning but try to set time aside in your schedule for one call/day.
If you’re a stationary addict like myself, you may have been waiting for an excuse to dive in and use it. Now is your chance. Write instead of call. Personally, I find writing provides the forethought to add the personalized touches you may forget when you talk over the phone. Is it less personal? Perhaps, but I for one light up whenever there is a handwritten envelope waiting for me in my mailbox. If you’re not a paper freak like me, that’s okay. Grab a box of blank note cards, or even printer paper, it matters not to the person on the other end receiving your letter. They will be delighted either way. If you don’t know what to say here are some ideas to get you started:
- Send a ‘just because’ or ‘I’m thinking of you’ card.
- Say ‘thank you’ for something they did for you, or ‘for being my friend’
- Let them know how much you value them or admire them or what you like/love most about them.
- Provide words of encouragement if they are going through a difficult time
- Celebrate them if there is a special day coming up – birthday, anniversary etc.
- When all else fails, Valentine's Day is the perfect justification
So, whether you’re speaking, or writing by hand, the goal is for each of the next thirty days to reach out to one person who makes your world better. By the end of that, you’ve reached out to those closest to you and let them know how much you appreciate them. You've also successfully built the habit of connecting with someone important enough to be on your list. You’ve laid the groundwork. Keep it up! And remember to start writing thank you notes – it's such a quick thing to do. You can order or buy a box on sale just about anywhere for very little cost but with enormous rewards.
Friendships involve give and take. Sometimes you’re on the receiving end, and other times it’s you who is providing support. But being kind, open and present with each other, is so worth it.
Happy Friendship Forging!