“What! You too?”
As C.S. Lewis once quite rightly observed, these three simple words are usually the birthplace to every new friendship.
Friendship is not always easy to find, the older we get in particular, but is always worth the effort and extra mileage (sorry no pun intended!)
When we do put the effort in to seek and nurture friendship, the positive impact on our life can be immense.
Friendship can be the definition of a problem shared is a problem halved as well as an outlet to celebrate and maximise joy from success and plenty. The release, good friendship offers, is very real and puts us at great ease.
Friendship as opposed to ‘friending’ or ‘following’ can positively affect our mental and physical health considerably.
Due to real friendships costing us time and sometimes resource we can often take our friendships for granted, making less contact with friends or relying more heavily on our faceless friending posts instead.
Last month’s article on loneliness highlighted the detrimental effects of being lonely and not having anyone to share our time with. This week we are celebrating (purposeful) friendship.
Friends share our good and bad moments and everything in between, like playing sport or just simply enjoying a chat over a pint or two down the pub. It doesn’t have to be complex, just simple honest sharing.
Time spent with friends has been shown to help reduce stress physically. According to Harvard Medical School, “social connections help relieve levels of stress, which can harm the heart’s arteries, gut function, insulin regulation and the immune system.”
Friends can also help you cope with stressful situations easier. According to one small study carried out on a group of children, it was observed that when children are with friends during a stressful situation, they produce less cortisol, a hormone released when the body is under stress.
Friends play a significant role in promoting our overall health. Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI). Studies have even found that older adults with a rich social life are likely to live longer than their peers that have fewer friend connections.
Why do we need to invest in our friendships?
Friendships see us:
1. Through the tough times - A problem shared is a problem halved, or at least the load can become easier to bear. We all need to talk and receive advice – it is only after we have, do we feel an unimaginable lightness, even though our situation may not have changed.
2. Through keeping active – friends get creative on ways of how to spend time together, whether that’s to celebrate a birthday or arrange a mutual interest occasion, a group will always suggest something and have enough enthusiasm to carry it out. This will usually lead to a lot of fun, banter, laughter and good feeling hormones. Who doesn’t want that?
3. Through secrets and unconditional acceptance – We all have some secrets in life which are usually best brought into the light, with someone you trust and know that they accept and love you for you. The first step to feeling less isolated is sometimes sharing who you really are with a trusted friend. They are the private mentors or free after hour counsellors ready to help you unburden and offer some sage advice. Friends can be like family members when they remain with you through the good times and the bad.
4. Through cheering on and covering up – everybody needs a cheerleader and everybody needs someone who’s got their back. Friends will give you confidence to keep going and believe you’ve got what it takes even when a situation is difficult. Friends are also truth tellers and might tell you what you don’t want to hear but need to. When we know it is from a place of goodness, we can trust in the messenger.
5. Through our design – our very human make up is designed to share, support, be supported and commune with each other. Without it, goes against our deepest human need. People need people. We all have valuable lessons to teach each other – patience, acceptance, humour, honour, value and love. Henry David Thoreau possibly got it right, when he said,“ A man cannot be said to succeed in this life who does not satisfy one friend.” We are made for friendship and relationship.
All these whys in respect to friendship, could possibly be all wrapped up into the lyrics of that classic tune, “Lean on me” because we all need somebody to lean on.
Is there the perfect number of friends?
No, quality counts far more than quantity. It’s worth mentioning that over the years friendship groups can decrease in size but they also deepen in meaning. While it’s healthy to cultivate a diverse network of friends and acquaintances, you also want time to nurture a few truly close friends that you can count on. On average, a study has been done, whereby, friendship groups can consist of an ‘inner core’ of five or so people and an additional layer of 10. Some will most likely be family members who are your central group, and then outside that, there’s another 35 in the next circle and can be another 100 on the outside periphery – all those Christmas cards!! And that can be the make-up of one person’s social world.
The important thing is to keep it simple and be the friend you’d like to have in return.
Ways to purposefully meet new friends:
Take classes in a subject you’ve always wanted to study or join a new group/hobby.
Sign up to a triathlon or walk the Pennines – do something you’ve always wanted to do.
Reconnect with ex work mates or old friends that you have lost contact with – remember it takes two to tango!
Use your family ties to reach out
Volunteer with local charitable work – there are so many worthy causes that need your help
Check out one of these near you – a practical learning and social ‘shed’ environment with friendship at its core. https://menssheds.org.uk
We need to actively think about our friendships and act out what we say and see. If we put as much thought into our friendships as we did what we eat, how productive we are or even our children’s schooling, we would most likely be in a much more supported and connected position. Friendships add purpose to life, they encourage us to be better and more bold versions of ourselves. Friends help you navigate life’s flow with more ease and less stress. Good friends are hard to find, so let’s invest time and effort into growing deeper bonds and remember those three powerful little words that connect us all to some common ground.
I have some great school and university mates…Unfortunately, many of us live in different countries now, so catching up for a beer becomes more problematic. Thankfully the smart phone has enabled us to still catch up and keep up to date with each other, but hasn’t solved the beer aspect, yet!
I feel extremely lucky to still have some really good friends in my life from my school days, even since the age of 4!! That’s a long time! We have continued to make an effort to get together once every month or so for a beer or game of golf. We have been through lots of life’s ups and downs together, and even celebrated our 50th birthdays together, making more memories!
My great Aunt is soon to be 100 years young and she is living testimony to having a rich social life through church and bridge club etc, that has helped to keep her sprightly and connected. She’s throwing a party next month – celebrating her friendships!