How Friendship Impacts Your Health

It’s great to have friends. Finding that special person who shares your thoughts and interests is always a glamorous occasion, so when that someone comes along, we tend to hang on as though our lives depend on it.

Actually, that’s a pretty accurate statement. Having friends isn’t just fun; according to some studies, it can potentially increase the fullness and length of your life.

“In general, the role of friendship in our lives isn’t terribly well-appreciated,” says sociology professor Rebecca G. Adams. “There is just scads of stuff on families and marriage, but very little on friendship. It baffles me. Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.”

As human beings, our intuition often tells us that if we want to be healthy, it’s important to stay active and eat right, so we spend hordes of money on gym memberships and organic vegetables, while the occasional beer or coffee with someone we love and trust could potentially have the same effect.

When you think about it, why wouldn’t this make sense? Humans are social animals. We long to be part of the group. Consider this… When you were in elementary school or junior high, what were the most important things to you? Wearing the latest fashion?  Joining clubs?  Listening to the “right” music?  Fitting in and being part of a group is often important to us from an early age.  In elementary school or junior high, we begin to seek out others with similar interests.  This is an effort to make friends and garner social acceptance

Having friends gives us a sense of purpose. Being able to work, play and converse with others gives one a feeling of accomplishment. Those who live for themselves and do for themselves all the time tend to lack any sort of social support. They have everything they may want in a material sense, but towards the end, they wind up feeling lonely and hopeless, which can ultimately take years off one’s life.

Friends also help us deal with stress, says Brigham Young’s Julianne Holt-Lunstad. Stress is often deemed a “silent killer,” and the university researcher explains:

“As we encounter potentially stressful events in our lives, if we know that we’ve got people we can count on or turn to, we may be less likely to even perceive it as stressful, because we know we can handle it… But also, let’s say we’re already in the throes of some kind of stressful event, our relationships can also help us cope with it and buffer that reaction to the stress.”

So the bottom line is clear; you can give up smoking, you can jog every day, you can follow certain health standards, but if you’re living in solitary confinement, you’re not likely to see much change in your general state. So maybe the time has come to break those chains… Get out there and get to know people.