The Importance of Healthy Friendships
Invest in Healthy Friendships
The FRIENDSHIP CONNECTION: It’s more apparent than ever how fundamentally important our healthy friendships are to our wellbeing. As a Denver therapist and online life coach, I often speak with my online therapy clients about how empty and meaningless life can feel when they don’t have supportive friends and family with whom to share their journey, celebrate their success, and turn to for comfort and guidance in difficult times.
Is this true for you, too? If so, developing friendships and creating a supportive, solid friendship network may be an important goal on your overall journey of creating the life you want. But even if the desire for stronger friendships exists, it can be hard to build genuinely healthy friendships — especially as an adult. Why is it so much harder to develop close friendships as an adult? The obvious answer is “because, time.” But here's a new idea: Most 30+ adults simply don't prioritize their friendships the same way they did during simpler times of life.
Let's be real: Many busy, successful professionals to put their cultivation of healthy friendships on the back burner and prioritize everything else instead. When you are juggling kids, a job, a spouse, and a house, it can feel like an indulgence to just “hang out” with friends (either virtually, or in-person). However, what emerging research into evolutionary biology, neuroscience and mental health is uncovering is that prioritizing your healthy friendships, even if it just feels like hanging out, is actually one of the single most important, impactful things you can do with your time and energy.
Fun fact: The non-productive, non-goal oriented time we spend messing around, doing nothing in particular, and simply being together with friends has — wait for it — about the same impact on your health as does quitting smoking cigarettes. But that's just the start of the avalanche of positive consequences of cultivating healthy friendships. Having friends and being a friend is actually one of the most important things you can do, if your goal is to be a happy, healthy human.
So if you, too, have bought into the idea that “it's harder to make close friends as an adult” consider this new idea: The biggest obstacle to adult friendships is lack of conscious understanding of the importance of friends. Once you get that, then it gets easier to become committed to putting the time and energy into building positive relationships. (And friendships will follow).
Why is Healthy Friendship Important?
Step one is building the understanding of why healthy friendships are so vital. Consider the opposite of friendship: Disconnection. When we’re disconnected from our friends and loved ones it takes a toll, mentally, emotionally, and even physically. We know from research into biology and neuro-science that healthy friendships are a core component of not just enjoying life and feeling subjectively happier, but even having a biological impact on the way our bodies function.
Scientific facts about friendship indicate that, across the board, people who invest in their friendships experience benefits in many parts of their lives that seem unrelated. There is a measurable connection between friendship and health. For example, people who report having stronger, healthier friendships live longer, have increased immunity to disease, and are often buffered from the chronic stressors that are known to impair your health and wellness.
When we invest in healthy relationships and strong friendships, we are doing just as much to improve our health as we are by exercising, eating well, and yes, even quitting smoking. When you build relationships, you’re preventing health problems — even if it just feels like you’re hanging out and enjoying yourself. (Bonus points for exercising with your friends!)
The Role of Friends in Our Life
We often think of friends as a source of enjoyment, but the truth is that the role of healthy friendships goes much deeper. For example, in supportive, intimate friendships we find a sense of belonging. We also have people we can turn to in moments of hardship and personal stress, or when you're grieving a loss. While your friends may not be able to do anything to “fix” the situation, the experience of sharing your story with someone who cares may in itself be healing.
Having emotionally supportive people to turn to (whether or not you're actually talking about “it”) has a measurable impact on our stress levels, both physiological stress and the stress we're aware of. There is a very well established connection between chronic stress and chronic health issues. If you want to improve your health, it may be more impactful for you to spend an hour a day strengthening your positive friendships than hitting the gym by yourself. Consider it!
Friends and Mental Health
Having healthy friendships is also strongly associated with mental health, as well as physical health. People who feel isolated or lonely are more vulnerable to feelings of depression and anxiety. But even more importantly, having relationships with people who are invested in their own personal growth and mental health can be enormously inspiring for you to take steps to cultivate your own.
Aside from the chance to talk to friends, which is an emotional buffer in itself, getting out of your comfort zone and opening up to friends increases the chance that you’ll wind up working on yourself. For example, having a good friend tell you that they, personally have found a good therapist and are enjoying therapy makes it much more likely that you will feel comfortable in seeking out your own life coach or therapist online or in person. Being connected to other people who are on a journey of personal growth and self-development lifts you up, too.
In contrast, if you are close friends with someone who is NOT investing in their own wellness, and who is in the grips of depression or anxiety, it will bemore likely that you yourself will feel worse instead of better.
So in addition to seeking out healthy friendships with people who are actively on a quest of self-improvement, by taking an active role in your own personal growth and self-development it will also lift your friends up too. You will become a source of inspiration and a role model for people in your friend group who may be struggling. Investing in yourself lifts everyone around you!
How to Cultivate Relationships & Be a Good Friend
It can be difficult for busy adults to find the time and energy to create new friendships or invest in your existing friendships in order to make them stronger. A fundamental piece of healthy friendships is a cooperative, reciprocal generosity of mutual caring and support. Making new friends and investing in your old friends is definitely a commitment of time and energy. However, it’s a worthy investment that has the power to build and strengthen many aspects of your life as well as theirs.
Having a good relationship with a friend requires mutual generosity, but cultivating a genuinely supportive social network may also involve recognizing that some of your friendships are not positive and need to be released. There are such things as unhealthy friendships, and if you’ve been in a relationship with a selfish person or someone who’s mental health issues are preventing them from being a good friend to you, it may be time to set some healthy boundaries for yourself. Your focusing on building positive relationships and your own mental and emotional wellness may, longer-term, inspire them to do the same.
Understanding Healthy Friendships, With Lydia Denworth
To support YOU in your understanding of the importance of healthy friendships, and to deepen you understanding of what it really takes to build supportive relationships in your life, I’ve invited science journalist and author Lydia Denworth to speak with me about her new book, “Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond.” (Learn more about Lyda and her work at LydaDenworth.com)
She shares what her painstaking research has uncovered about why friendships are so important to us, the risks of neglecting your friendships, the impact of friendships on children and adolescents, and — perhaps most importantly — concrete strategies for how to build and nurture your friendships during social distancing.
Specifically, we’re discussing:
- The impact of friendship on your brain and your body
- How friendships develop
- The importance of showing up
- Why we need our friends in good times and in bad
- How to help your kids develop healthy friendships
- How to develop healthy friendships as an adult
Listen to our conversation, to learn about the importance of healthy friendship and how to build strong friendship connections.
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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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