“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”
Everyone knows that children and teens need friends but somehow as we move into adulthood and middle age, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that grown-ups need friends too! It is easy to think that our spouse, our kids, and our jobs are all that we need and have time for. It is easy to trick ourselves into believing that friends are just a luxury or another demand on our time when actually adults need friendship as much, if not more, than at any other time in life. In fact, an Australian study followed 1,477 individuals who were 70 years or older, for 10 years to see how social connections impacted the individual’s health and longevity. In this study they found that older adults with a large community of friends were 22% less likely to die during the study than those with less friends. In 2008 a study out of Harvard University reported that strong social ties could contribute to brain health as we age. Spending time with friends also increases our dopamine level, which increases happiness!
Friendship also helps us feel less alone, less isolated and more loved. This is even more important today than in the past with much more of our work and play done from the privacy of our own home. We can communicate with a broader social network, while ironically, communicating less with those who live in our neighborhood. In fact, it is not uncommon to see people on their cell phones while at a party, rather than interacting with others who are there with them.
When we were an Agricultural Society the home, family and community were the center of work and social activity. Neighbors knew each other and depended on each other. They became a social support for each other. As we moved to an Industrial Society, the home and family were no longer the center of work and social activity and finding community became more difficult. With longer and longer work schedules, both partners working, and the increased connectivity that the Internet and Social Networking has afforded us, each home has became an island unto its self. This has robbed us of the easy, natural friendship ties that bonded us in the past.
Yet we are still hard-wired with the need for social connections. Friends provide a bond that neither a romantic partner nor our kids can give us. Friends allow us to just be ourselves. We can share our struggles, deepest fears and joys with our friends. We can have fun with our friends. We can share the intimate details or struggles that we are having with our partner or kids without being judged by a friend. We can also hear about our friend’s struggles and feel less alone. And, friends can provide a reality check – they can give good feedback that others wouldn’t dare to voice.
The good news is that it is never too late to make new friends, rekindle old relationships, and nurture the friendships you currently have. Keeping up with friends is good for your health and heart! So, let’s get started by making a list of your current close friends, more distant friends, and acquaintances. Then, we can look at how you can enhance those relationships to build a strong, supportive network of friends.