According to experts, friends provide great social support systems, protecting people from not only loneliness but also different health issues.

The universe, they say, is a series of random events. We are born without much preference. We can neither choose our parents nor can we determine our names. By birth, we gain citizenship of countries we do not choose. 

Despite the unpredictability that strings the world together, and which have fundamentally shaped our lives and identity since our births, there is a relief for us that we have no obligation to be friends with people we do not choose and like. 

As old wisdom tells us, we cannot choose our neighbours but we can certainly choose our friends.

But having the right to choose your friends does not guarantee we will pick the right ones. While good friendships can make us better human beings, both spiritually and physically, ensuring we have people who can help us in our rainy days, problematic partnerships might also hurt our feelings and disappoint us deeply. It can also damage our health. 

“You can call them on a bad day and they will care. Your group of friends are better than any drug or anti-aging supplement, and will do more for you than just about anything,” says Dan Buettner, an author and award-winning researcher who has conducted research to understand how friendships affect people’s health. 

Human beings constantly look for meaning in their lives and when they find it in their actions and relations, they become more motivated to live a decent life with many hopes for the future. As a result, friendly relations, which suggest that we are not alone on the planet, are crucial for finding the true meaning of life.  

According to Buettner, good friendships, which help us make our lives more meaningful by offering social support in critical times, can help people live longer. Other studies have also shown that people with fewer friends and connections are likely to have shorter lives than persons with good partners. 

“The evidence indicates that the more friends we have, the less likely we are to fall ill, while our lifespan increases,” says Robin Dunbar, a prominent British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist, whose latest book, Friends: Understanding the Power of Our Most Important Relationships, digs into the importance of friendships on our lives.  

Even if we fall ill, it’s crucial to have friends, who can drive us to a hospital or buy food for us. In Japan, which has the world’shighest life expectancy, moai—a lifetime five-member friendship circle—is one of the critical factors behind the longevity of the people in the island-nation. The members of a moai pledge to give social, financial, psychological and logistic support to any member in need. 

Members of a moai, a Japanese friendship group, which ensure social support for its members, are conducting one of their meetings. The group functions in Japan's Okinawa city.
Members of a moai, a Japanese friendship group, which ensure social support for its members, are conducting one of their meetings. The group functions in Japan's Okinawa city. (bluezones.com)

Good friends fill our lives when we need crucial psychological outside, helping escape loneliness and even prevent us from taking dark decisions like suicide. But every expert points out that not the number of your friends but their quality matters. Strong bonds of friendship formed over a period of time matter a lot. 

But how can we develop good friendships? 

Finding good friends

While we are free to choose our partners, we often want to be friends with people from similar backgrounds. In primary school, you meet a classmate who comes to comfort you when a teacher rebukes you. All the sudden you feel so close to her/him and become friends. 

Studies show that people have more chances of finding good friends when they face challenges in their lives than times when they feel comfortable and safe. Different researches show that when people climb a hill or take a difficult exam, if they are alone, they perceive the challenge more difficult. But if they are partnered, they perceive the challenge in easier terms and are more willing to face it. 

But beside challenging times, there are so many other ways to develop good friendships. 

One area you can focus on to develop good friendships is making some of your passive friends turn into active partners. Some experts call passive friendships “weak ties” in which we usually engage in a low-level interaction. Our passive friends could range from old classmates from high school in our hometown to co-workers at work. 

Due to both family and external work loads, we usually find ourselves constrained to spare time to connect with our old friends or have time with some of our co-workers, whom we instinctively feel could be good friends. 

But making a brief call to an old classmate might generate an idea for a high school gathering at some point, and you can meet your old friends to go down the memory lane of all the happy times you had shared. Or for lunchtime, you can invite one of your co-workers, who has recently helped you with a minor issue. 

Three Turkish friends, whose families migrated from Konya, a central Anatolian city, to Izmir, a Western Turkish metropolis, five decades ago, attend classes to learn to read and write in their 60s.
Three Turkish friends, whose families migrated from Konya, a central Anatolian city, to Izmir, a Western Turkish metropolis, five decades ago, attend classes to learn to read and write in their 60s. (AA Archive)

Experts believe these kinds of small-scale initiatives to connect with passive friends can make “weak ties” gain strength. Also, sometimes a little effort to talk to a gym attendee might be the beginning of a good friendship, turning a casual relationship into an enduring partnership. 

Seeking different people from our interests and habits might benefit us, enriching and diversifying our life experience. “Your team of friends needs different players with different strengths,” says Mahzad Hojjat, a social psychologist at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and co-editor of the bookThe Psychology of Friendship.

Different friends also help us moderate different settings in our lives, from neighbourhood issues to workplaces, making us react to complicated developments in much better ways. Different friends can also help us regulate our emotions in a better sense, contributing to our “well-being”, according to some studies. 

We can also do different things from feeding friends to listening to music together to increase understanding among our friends. 

Friends are equally important

Many experts point out that a meaningful life is not necessarily the combination of a settled family life and a hard-working attitude. Beyond family dynamics and work politics, we also need friends with whom we can share some intimate details about our internal life and job issues. 

These confidential shares called self-disclosure might help us feel better and get some outside perspective into the conditions of our family and work lives. If you have no partners or refuse to share your problems with your friends, then you are alone and isolated from your friendly eco-chamber to resolve your issues. 

Also, when you share your experiences with friends, you increase the level of trust with them, laying out the path for a close relationship. “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure,” says Arthur Aron, a scientist at State University of New York at Stony Brook. 

Sometimes talking with a friend might lead an angry husband to think about the issues with his wife, persuading him to take therapy, instead of separating from the family. A frustrated student, who wants to drop school believing he/she could not make it, might be motivated by a close friend to fight back. 

Or, after talking to a good friend, a hard-working man, who thinks his bosses are not appreciating his work well enough, might decide to slow down at work and focus on his family, both calming himself down and keeping his job at the same time. 

In all these cases, good friends can help us balance our lives, experts say. 

Why, one man even became a best-selling author by writing a book on friendship. Heard of Dale Carnegie and his How to Win Friends and Influence People?

Source: TRT World