Friendships: Enrich your life and improve your health
Friendships are good for your health. During hardships, they are
a source of comfort and strength. Learn how to find and nurture
friendships and how to be a good friend.
By Mayo Clinic staff
They offer the shoulder to lean on. The good advice. The unspoken
comfort. The good times and the shared laughter. Friendships offer all
these benefits, and lots more. They boost your self-esteem, provide
companionship, and even help protect your overall health and mental
It's not always easy to form the close bonds of friendships, though.
It may be especially hard to develop and keep up friendships when your
life is hectic — work demands, family time, school. But friendships are
important for both men and women. Take a minute to think about the
friends in your life. Do you have close friends? Would you like to
develop more friendships?
Why friendships are so important
Good friends are good for your health. Talking with a friend over a
cup of coffee, going to a ballgame together, chatting while your kids
romp on the playground, or hitting the links for a round of golf can
offer simple but powerful ways to connect.
Benefits of friendships
The connections of friendship can:
- Increase your sense of belonging
- Boost your happiness
- Reduce stress
- Improve your self-worth
- Decrease your risk of serious
- Help you weather traumas, such as
divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one
- Encourage you to change unhealthy
lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise
- Share in your good times, such as
a new baby, a new job, a new house
Friends can celebrate the good times with you or offer comfort during
the bad. Just knowing that friends are there for you can help you avoid
unhealthy reactions to stressful situations.
Ways to actively seek out friendships
Some people benefit from large and diverse networks of friends, while
others prefer a smaller circle of friends and acquaintances. You may
have certain very close friends you rely on for deeply personal
conversations, and more casual friendships for movies, a pickup game of
basketball or backyard cookouts.
But many adults, especially men and those in troubled relationships,
find it hard to develop new friendships or keep up existing friendships.
For one thing, time may be short. Friendships may take a back seat to
your other priorities, such as long days on the job, keeping up the
house, or caring for aging parents. Or maybe you've moved to a new
community and haven't yet found a way to meet people.
Developing good friendships does take some work. But remember that
friends don't have to be your age or share a similar cultural, religious
or educational background. And because friendships are so important to
your overall sense of well-being, it's worth the time and effort to
Meeting new people
Here are some ways you can develop friendships:
- Get out with your pet.
Seek out a popular dog park, make conversation with those who stop
to talk on your daily neighborhood jaunts, or make pet play dates.
- Work out. Join a
class through a local gym, senior center or community fitness
facility. Or start a lunchtime walking group at work.
- Do lunch. Invite
an acquaintance to join you for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- Accept invites.
When you're invited to a party, dinner or social gathering, say yes.
Resist the urge to say no just because you may not know everyone
there or because you may initially feel awkward. You can always
leave if you get too uncomfortable.
Hospitals, places of worship, museums, community centers, charitable
groups and other organizations often need volunteers. You can form
strong connections when you work with people who share a mutual
- Join a cause.
Get together with a group of people working toward a goal you
believe in, such as an election or the cleanup of a natural area.
- Join a hobby group.
Find a nearby group with similar interests in such things as auto
racing, music, gardening, books or crafts.
- Go back to school.
Take a college or community education course to meet people with
- Hang out on your porch.
Front porches used to be social centers for the neighborhood. If you
don't have a front porch, you can still pull up a chair and sit out
front with a cup of coffee or a good book. Making yourself visible
shows that you are friendly and open.
- Join a church or faith
community. Many churches and faith communities welcome new
You may not become instant friends the first time you meet someone.
But the seeds of lasting friendships can be sown with something as
simple as a friendly wave as you're mowing the lawn or bringing in the
Keep friendships nurturing and
Developing and maintaining healthy friendships involves give and
take. Sometimes you're the one giving support to your friends, and other
times you're on the receiving end. Letting friends know you care about
them and appreciate them will help ensure that their support remains
strong when times are rough. It's as important for you to be a good
friend as it is to surround yourself with good friends.
Here are some ways to make sure your friendships remain healthy and
- Go easy. Don't
overwhelm friends with phone calls or e-mails. Communication can be
brief — five minutes on the phone or several sentences in an e-mail.
Find out how late or early you can call, and respect those
boundaries. Do have a plan for crisis situations, when you may need
to temporarily set aside such restrictions.
- Be aware of how others
perceive you. Ask a friend for an honest evaluation of how
you come across to others. Take note of any areas for improvement
and work on them.
- Don't compete.
Don't let a friendship turn into a hidden battle over who makes the
most money, has the best clothes or the coolest car. Don't fight
over other friends. This will only turn friendships into unhealthy
- Adopt a healthy,
realistic self-image. Both vanity and constant
self-criticism can be turnoffs to potential friends.
- Resolve to improve
yourself. Cultivating your own honesty, generosity and
humility will enhance your self-esteem and make you a more
compassionate and appealing friend.
- Avoid relentless
complaining. Nonstop complaining is tiresome and draining
on friendships. Talk to your friends about how you can change the
parts of your life that you're unhappy about.
- Adopt a positive outlook.
Try to find the humor in things. Laughter is infectious and
- Listen up. Make
a point to ask what's going on in the lives of your friends. Don't
talk about your own problems all the time. Friendships can't last
when you're self-absorbed.
Friendships pay dividends
Friendships provide a sense of belonging and comfort. Friendships act
as a buffer against life's hardships and help you develop resilience.
They offer compassion and acceptance. And friendships can make you feel
important and needed by giving you a chance to offer someone else
comfort and companionship, too.
Relationships change as you age, but it's never too late to build new
friendships or reconnect with old friends. The investment in your
friends will pay off in better health and a brighter outlook for years
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