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Have You Heard?  Friendship Is More Than Great, It’s Also Healthy.

Friendships soothe us and nurture us. Friendships can even protect us physically.

What would we ever do without our friends?  We laugh with them and we cry with them.  We help them just as they help us.  Our friends are pillars in our lives.  They provide a source of strength and solace to an occasionally unfriendly world. 

Sometimes their names change but mostly they are with us over the years.  As we imagine our lives beyond childhood and adolescence, our friends are there.  Through our glorious wins and our painful losses, our friends are there.  They are with us through all the days of our lives. 

We think of them as our friends though the word doesn’t fully express how very important they are in our lives.  Often, they’re as close as or closer than our family.  In fact, our friends may become our family.  “Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships,” writes Professor Rebecca G. Adams¹.

What is it about friendship? 

Sometimes urban legend is just that, the stories of the internet.  Some are true while others are fiction.  There’s one going around that may seem improbable but is based on deep research.  That’s the one that refers to an unnamed Stanford psychology professor’s advice for good health: the best thing a man can do for his health is to be married to a woman; the best thing a woman can do for her health is to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends.

Women nod knowingly.  They recognize the simple truth of these words, that their girlfriends are vital to their well-being.

Social psychologists have begun to study the merits of friendship. Their findings?  Friendships come with tremendous benefits.  In study after study, friendships are shown to promote physical and psychological health while protecting against the effects of stress. 

“In threatening times, people seek positive social relationships, because such contacts provide protection to maintain one’s own safety and that of one’s offspring,” writes social psychologist and Distinguished Professor at UCLA, Shelley Taylor².

Friendship is something women do.  It’s just plain natural.  Add to that the discovery that in times of stress, women release a hormone that increases the likelihood they’ll tend or befriend.  Women are able to move beyond a stress-induced fight or flight response to nurture and be nurtured.

The good news for men is that recent studies show male stress-response tools also extend beyond pure fight or flight.  It turns out they, too, have a stress-induced hormone that is linked to seeking closer social relationships. 

One Friend or Twenty?

Over the years, we make more and more friends.  Some are professional friends – people with whom we mostly share work-related conversations.  Some are friends from organizations we value – religious organizations, cultural organizations, political organizations, even social and athletic organizations.  And, of course, there are friends who share hobbies just as there are friends you’ve met through other friends. 

Over the years, we make many friends.  We may even refer to the various groups of our friends: my running club friends, my work friends, my church friends, my knitting friends and on.  Some become a part of our own inner circle, our very closest friends.  You may even have a name for that inner circle. 

That’s right, not all friends have the same status in our lives.  Some are close friends.  Other friends may serve a different purpose.  You may enjoy your tennis group.  You love that you are each competitive.  Your tennis together is intense; you have fun with your tennis friends but they may or may not be amongst your closer friends.

Some of our friends will be in more than one group.  In other words, you may serve on a fundraising committee with a friend from work.  Other times, there may be no overlap between groups. 

Some of the people we call friends may actually be acquaintances.  We know them, we see them, we even speak with them regularly.  We may even share important factors – we may be tornado survivors or we may sing beautifully.  Still, if there isn’t a connection, a spark, then the relationship may remain in the acquaintance category.  That’s simply a part of the way our world works today.    

You may have lots and lots of friends but your core group of friends may be small.  Every one of the relationships is important, some more important than others.

Have you hugged a friend today?  It may be as simple as a text, an email or a call.  Connect and enjoy.

Sources

The New York Times, April 21, 2009: What Are Friends For? A Longer Life by Tara Parker-Pope.

References

¹  Rebecca G. Adams, Sociology Professor, University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

²  Shelley E. Taylor, Distinguished Professor of Health Psychology, UCLA.

Books

The Girls From Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship by Jeffrey Zaslow, April 2009.