Remember when we told you that chocolate is good for you? Well, here’s more good news about something we know we want, something we know we need: friendship. Nobody has to tell us at this point in our lives that our friends are vital – a lifeline, a source of comfort, compassion and humor. But the multiple demands on us often make finding time to connect with our friends difficult. If we can find time to see a friend, a big “if,” then we feel guilty for putting off responsibilities to family or work. Feel guilty no more, for it turns out that friends are good not just for our happiness, but for our health.
In one recent study, women with good friends were less likely to be depressed, weighed less and had lower rates of smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure than women without them; they were also less likely to develop physical disabilities as they grew older. The researchers speculate that these strong social ties may protect us against disease because they deflect the stressors of our tension-filled lives. It turns out that having good close friendships benefits our kids, too, affecting their healthy early development. Other studies have shown that women without close friendships are more likely to be emotionally needy, putting stresses on their partners and thus their marriages.
In the form of really good mentors, friends can foster our professional lives, says still another study which found that people who have close friends at work are more satisfied in their jobs as well as happier in their personal lives. Oprah has written about her long-time best friend Gayle King, “we laugh a lot, mostly about ourselves. She has helped me through demotions, near firings, sexual harassment, and the twisted and messed up relationships of my twenties. …In every good and great thing that has ever happened to me Gayle has been my boldest cheerleader.”
In her piece entitled "Friends are the Key to Workplace Happiness ," Miami Herald Reporter Cindy Goodman writes, “On a bad day, when I’m frustrated with trying to find a source for an article and my kid has been throwing up for hours, I unload my woes on my close friend and co-worker Beth. … She’ll chime in with some encouragement and a been-there tale that helps me conquer the day’s dilemmas.” In Every Other Thursday, Ellen Daniell devotes a whole book to the group of professional scientists and administrators she belongs to, who gather monthly to ensure “cooperation in a competitive world.” Friends provide support that keeps us psychologically centered, because, above all, friendship is about reciprocity, something we’re unlikely to get from our kids, much as they love us.
But friendship isn’t just about companionship, shared interests, or even about emotional support. Writer Lisa Brennan-Jobs says that for her, “friendship must be an exchange of wisdom, not just company… I like being alone, so my friendships have to be meaningful and not just a way to pass the hours.” Stereotypes about women’s friendships focus on their ability to nurture and sustain us, which they do. But our friendships can also benefit us intellectually, offer us opportunities to engage and even stretch our minds, whether through book groups, community problem solving, or political action.
So schedule that dinner date to see a friend, arrange a day – or a morning – for coffee and conversation with another. Share triumphs and trials and ideas. If you choose them carefully, your friends can amuse you, support you, define you and as it turns out, keep you well.