In this time and age when there is such a huge variety of affordable entertainment to keep one occupied, another person’s company might not seem as necessary as it used to be. But in truth, friends do more than just brighten up our lives. Good friends are lifebuoys in times of need, or important pillars of strength in dark times. More essentially, they have also been scientifically proven to extend our lifespans!
A study by Brigham Young University in Utah that was published in 2010 revealed that people who have good social relationships are less likely to die early than more isolated people. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, the psychologist who led the study, said, “A lack of social relationships was equivalent to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.”
Having low levels of social interaction was equivalent to being an alcoholic, was more harmful than not exercising and was twice as harmful as obesity.
Friendships affect your emotional wellbeing. Having friends resolves a person’s need to confide in someone, the need to belong, the need for support, and the need to feel needed. Gretchen Rubin, author of best-seller “The Happiness Project”, shared that studies show that if you have five or more friends whom you can rely on to discuss an important matter, you are far more likely to describe yourself as “very happy.” Happiness means enjoying life, and reducing the risk of depression.
Friendships are not difficult to initiate. A smile and some friendly greetings and words get a pleasant acquaintance started. Most of us would also have the chance to meet people from school, work and other activities. The main challenge, however, is nurturing and maintaining these friendships. Hurdles develop when people are too busy with their jobs and families to hang out. Differing aspirations and directions as one gets older also cause friends to drift apart.
Friendship is a plant which must be often watered. Otherwise, it would wilt and eventually disappear from your life!
Meet up regularly
Nothing beats meeting up and chatting in person. Sharing about the latest developments in your life over dinner is a great way to strengthen friendships without having to compromise too much family or work time. After all, everyone needs dinner. Make it a point to meet up at least twice a month, once a month if it is a hectic month.
When choosing activities to do at meet ups, do something that is fun for you. Some people tire of gatherings or social meet ups because they do not enjoy the activities planned. If you are one of these people, take the initiative to suggest or plan meet ups that you would want to go to. Your friends might like your plans too.
If you and your friends have common interests, you can join an interest group together, or start one. Being able to bond over your favourite activity with multiple friends makes such group activities efficient. It is easier to maintain relationships when you have several friends in common. Furthermore, you may meet new friends who are other members of the club, or meet new people that your friends bring in.
Keep in touch
With communication channels becoming more varied and affordable, this should not be too hard. Give your friend a ring, or do a webcam chat, scheduling times if you are in different countries and time zones. Phone calls and webcam chats are more personal than other means of electronic communication methods as you can feel each others emotions through their voice and facial expressions.
If you can’t spare time to talk, the next best thing is emails and text messages. You can send these anytime you want, and especially with emails, you can write and share as much as you want. No specific time or occasion are needed to drop a word of concern to your friend, but if you lack motivation to do so, Gretchen Rubin suggests, in her article “Eight Tips for Maintaining Friendships”, that whenever you see something that you think would be of interest to your friends, email them about it. Apart from it being a good excuse to write, it also shows that they are constantly on your mind.
Social networking sites are effective and fuss-free ways to keep in touch and reconnect with your old pals. The simple acts of clicking the ‘like’ button or leaving a comment to your friends’ posts suggest that you have been reading their updates and care about what goes on in their life.
Show them that they matter
When you hold special events like marriages, birthdays, house warming and baby showers, invite your friends an added bonus if they are willing to lend a hand to help you with the preparations. It would be a good opportunity for you to spend time and bond with each other.
Send them wishes during festive seasons and on their special days like birthdays and anniversaries. If you cannot convey your greetings in person, you can do so over the phone, email or mail them a card.
Homes are intimate, personal spaces. If your friends have given you their address and invited you to visit, it suggests that you have their trust, and you should feel honoured. Make it a point to pay your friends a visit, especially during festive occasions, and invite your friends to your house. If you have friends residing abroad, take the chance to visit them if you happen to be in their town.
A friend in need is a friend indeed. Offer a helping hand and consolation to your friends when they are going through a tough phase in their lives. Visit your friends in times of illness, or when there is a family funeral, as these are times when your concern would be most appreciated. In tough times, we often look for support from family and close friends, and are disappointed if we fail to find any.
On the other hand, cut your friends some slack if they fail to be there for you in times of need. Do not automatically assume the worst of them; they could be dealing with problems of their own. Friends should be empathetic to each other.
Be genuine to your friends
Nobody likes to befriend people who are dishonest and untrustworthy. If you have done something to hurt your friend, it is better to come clean, explain, and apologise for it, than have your friend find out from some other source, which could break your friendship. If your friend shares a secret with you, never divulge it to someone else. Put yourself in others shoes. If someone does such deeds to you, you would not consider them your friend.
Be a good listener to your friends. It is very easy to just sit and nod while he talks, but is anything really registering inside your head? Focus on what your friend is saying, and ask for clarifications if anything is unclear. People confide in others because they want solutions and wise words. Your friend may be relying on you to help make a decision that concerns his future. Do not disappoint him!
Be proactive at resolving conflicts. Even the best of friends quarrel at some point of time. Spend some time apart to cool down before you talk to your friend, and try to understand your friend’s point of view, while helping your friend to comprehend yours. Regardless of who is at fault, you can always take the initiative to approach your friend, rather than wait for an apology or explanation to come to you. Friendships can die if hurtful words are not rectified, and misunderstandings left hanging.
Friendships are amongst the most precious gifts one can have. And like all precious things, they should never be taken for granted.
– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine