With the start of a new school year, a new job or a new community group comes an opportunity to make new friends. That warm smile you offer an acquaintance could be the beginning of a life-long friendship.
Good, healthy friendships are important for our emotional health. They provide a place for us to know others and to be known, to share even those parts of our life we keep hidden away.
Life goes better with friends
Everyone knows that friends make life better, but there is a growing body of evidence that shows people who have good friendships and strong social circles live longer—as well as happier—lives.
In study after study, researchers have found that those who have friends are less likely to become disabled and, if they do suffer a period of disability, more likely to recover . Further, people with fewer friendships are more likely to have a heart attack, while people with more social contacts are less likely to suffer cognitive decline.
The message from all this research: If friends are gifts we give ourselves, it’s good to be generous.
Why are friends so good for us?
Health-wise, friends encourage us to do what’s good for us: eat better, drink less, exercise and seek medical care when we need it; friends listen to us when we need to let off steam and cheer us up when we’re down. We stress less when we have friends who support us and help us along the way.
Frequently, family and friends are lumped together when people talk about support. However, friends don’t usually make the same demands that family members sometimes do. The old saying goes, “We choose our friends, but we’re stuck with our family.” Granted, we may have a supportive family that we’re very happy to be “stuck” with, but friendships allow us to experience ourselves in a new way and grow beyond the patterns and expectations of our family.
While friendships can be passing, we generally hang on to the ones that are meaningful. As we grow older, we may have fewer friends, but our pleasure in them grows. “People become more selective and get better at knowing the kind of people they like and don’t like. And they steer away from those they don’t care for,” says Stanford psychology professor Laura Carstensen about why friendships get better with age.
These days, in our mobile, fast-paced culture, it’s more difficult to make and maintain social relationships than when folks stayed in one place and had more leisure time. People move across town or across country and jam-pack their lives with schedules that leave no time for finding and nurturing friendships. Consequently, at the end of a too-full day or when a free weekend finally arrives, we may discover ourselves longing for the kind of easy pleasure friendship offers. Without friends, life gets lonely.
If you’ve moved to a new location, or your friends have drifted away and you need to restock the reservoir, reach out through joining groups and pursuing hobbies and interests where you’re likely to find kindred spirits. Extend a hand and an invitation.
Like any other living thing, friendship requires care and feeding:
- Make your friendships a regular priority, not just when you’re lonely.
- A weekly date can provide the scaffolding for an enduring emotional relationship.
- When you can’t be together physically, keep in touch with a phone call, by text or through personal interactions on social media.
- Celebrate special occasions with friends. Be there for the big events and the small, and create some traditions of your own.
- Make time for old friends, even if it’s an inconvenience.
There is wisdom in the simple lines from the childhood song, Make new friends and keep the old. One is silver, the other gold.
Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications
For many of us, developing deep friendships isn’t as easy as spending more time with someone you enjoy. Fear of sharing our true selves or anxiety that our secrets are shameful can make us hold our friends at arms length. Even as we try make ourselves vulnerable the wounded parts of ourselves may show up to create barriers to intimacy.
Although therapy is not a substitute for friendship, in our practice we place a high value on creating a place where you can feel safe to share even the things you’ve kept secret. Addressing the issues of shame or fear that block your ability to develop deep relationships, can free you to build life-giving friendships.
We use a variety of therapy methods, including EMDR, which has been effective in helping release people from the power fear and shame can have on their lives. . To make an appointment with Kay, Amy or Jana, please call our office at 818-681-6627.