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By Tara Parker-Pope. And with good reason. A true friend gives support without judgment, comes through in a crisis and knows just the right thing to say when it matters most. Keep reading to learn why friendships matter, how to sustain them and the simple steps you can take right now to be a better friend. Family relationships often come with a dose of guilt and obligation. Friends, on the other hand, are the antidote to the burdens of daily life.
How powerful is friendship? Researchers at the University of Virginia wanted to find out whether friendship influences how we approach the challenges of daily life. In an unusual experiment, researchers stood at the base of a steep hill a 26 degree incline on the university campus and asked 34 students as they walked by to help them in an experiment. Some students were by themselves; others were walking in pairs. Each student was given a backpack filled with weights equal to about 20 percent of their body weight.
While the students may have had the impression they were going to have to climb the hill, the researchers simply asked them to estimate how steep the climb would be. Notably, students standing alone perceived the hill slant as steeper and thought it would be harder to climb while carrying the weighted pack. But students who were standing next to a friend thought the hill looked easier to climb and gave lower estimates of its steepness.
Interestingly, the longer the two friends had known each other, the less steep the hill appeared. Other studies support the notion that social support helps us cope with stress. When female college students were asked to complete challenging math tasks, their heart rates went up. But when they were asked to complete the math problems with a friend in the room, their heart rates were lower. Scientists also know that when rhesus monkeys are moved to a new environment, the level of stress hormones in their blood increases.
But when a monkey is moved along with her preferred companion monkeys form friendships too , the stress hormones measured in her blood were much lower. Similar have been seen with rats and guinea pigs. All this research suggests that friends can change our view of a challenging situation, and that the mere presence of a friend in the same room can lower our stress. Having friends essentially allows us to outsource some of the emotional burdens of daily life.
Most of the research on health and relationships is focused on romantic partners. But researchers have found that our friendships actually have a bigger impact on our health. Here are some of the findings about the health benefits of having friends:. Logistical support: Friends can run errands and pick up medicine for a sick person, although in most studies, proximity was not a factor in the benefits of friendship.
Association: It may be that people with strong social ties also have better access to health services and care or are more likely to seek help. Less stress: People with strong friendships are less likely than others to get colds, perhaps because they have lower stress levels. Positive peer pressure: Researchers have found that certain health behaviors appear to be contagious and that our social networks — in person and online — can influence obesity , anxiety and overall happiness.
But it could also work the opposite way, a large study showed an increase of nearly 60 percent in the risk for obesity among people whose friends gained weight. Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow and author, has studied the health habits of people who live in regions of the world where people live far longer than the average. In Okinawa, Japan, where the average life expectancy for women is around 90, the oldest in the world, people form a kind of social network called a moai — a group of five friends who offer social, logistic, emotional and even financial support for a lifetime.
The quiz asks questions about your friends and the state of their health, how much they drink, eat and exercise, as well as their outlook. The goal is not for you to dump your less healthy friends, but to identify the people in your life who score the highest and to spend more time with them.
Buettner, who advises people to focus on three to five real-world friends rather than distant Facebook friends. Your group of friends are better than any drug or anti-aging supplement, and will do more for you than just about anything. Friends have a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships, so why is it that we often put family and work demands ahead of our friends? Why do friendships fade? Sometimes, it happens because our own lives are changing and entering new phases.
The friends we surround ourselves with in adolescence serve a different purpose than the friends we seek out when we become young adults. Our needs change again as we marry or partner, when we have children and when we have an empty nest. And studies show that the nature of friendships also can change over just a short period of time. In , Dutch scientists interviewed 1, people about the relationships they had with neighbors, many of whom discussed job stress and personal relationships and often visited or helped each other with odd jobs.
But when the researchers followed up seven years later, about half of these relationships had faded. While we need to remember that friendships undergo a natural churn as our lives change, some friendships end simply because we have neglected them.
Of course, great friendships can often weather these highs and lows, but imagine how much better those connections would be if we gave our friendships the regular care and feeding they need. Here are some suggestions for being a better friend. Given that we all have limited time and energy, it helps to prioritize a few important friendships that we want to nurture. How to decide? Start by thinking of your friends in terms of active relationships or passive connections.
Both are important to our overall happiness, but passive friends take less time and attention, giving you more time to prioritize the friends that mean the most to you. While the ties are not strong, the benefits of these relationships can be great. They provide networking opportunities and make us feel more connected to other social groups.
A study found that the more weak ties a person has, the happier he or she feels. Nurture your active friendships. Often when we think of living a balanced life, we focus on two things: work and family. But a truly balanced life really has five key components: It should also include our romantic lives, self-care including exercise and hobbies and our friends.
While we may not always give all five areas equal time a new baby or a work deadline can sometimes shift our life balance , in general, work, family, love, self-care and friends are all equally important. The good news is that friends tend to be less demanding of our time than family members and bosses, so tending to our friendships can take up a lot less time than other demands.
Here are some tricks for giving your friendships more time and attention. Schedule friend dates. When life gets hectic because of parenting or work demands, your friendships tend to be the first to suffer. But if you schedule friend dates regularly, your friendships will stay strong no matter what challenges are ahead. A few minutes of friendship goes a long way.
I stopped by her desk with a question and noticed she was on deadline. It takes only a few minutes of listening and care to make a connection and reinforce the bonds of friendship. Take five minutes to call or text, and just tell a friend you are thinking about them. Consistency matters more than frequency.
My mother-in-law has ed an annual reunion of her college cheerleader squad for the past 60 years. Look at the calendar and start a new annual tradition with your friends a t birthday celebration, a National Dog Day dog walk, an adult Halloween treat night or a tax-day cocktail.
If you want more frequent time together, check your schedules and think about the potential for a consistent monthly meetup. One of my good friends, a teacher and actress, has classes most days, but we discovered that both of our calendars are open on Wednesday mornings. Now we meet about one morning a month at a favorite diner in our neighborhood.
Exercise with friends. Scheduling exercise with a friend is a great way to stay connected, and it has the added bonus of boosting your physical wellbeing. It can be a weekly walk or a twice-weekly run — whatever works to get the two of you in the same space with time to talk. Take a class.
We have limited time for both our hobbies and our friends, so why not nurture both needs at the same time and bring a friend in on the fun. Technology has made it even easier to show friends we care. Here are some suggestions for small gestures for sustaining friendships. Text a photo. How often do you see something that makes you think of a friend? It takes less than a minute to snap a photo and text it to them. Bring home treats from travels. When I was traveling in Spain for work last summer, I thought of a friend who would appreciate the many gorgeous cathedrals there.
I purchased a rosary and brought it home to her, a small act that I believe was the beginning of a deeper connection we now share. Share a news article. Stop by their desk. It takes two minutes to drop by a desk and let someone know they are on your mind. Feed your friends. There is something about a gift of food that makes us feel loved and cared for. To this day she remains one of my favorite friends even though our children have grown up.
Show up for the milestones. When it comes to friendship, big gestures also make a big impression. Share a song. Choose a song you want to share with a friend. Tell them why you are sharing it — does it make you think of them? Does it explain how you feel? Or does it bring back a great memory? Take time to talk about it. A large body of research shows that music helps foster deeper social connections. A of studies link music to a boost of oxytocin, which is a neuropeptide associated with an increase in bonding and trust between people. In one study, singing for 30 minutes raised oxytocin levels in both amateur and professional singers.
We know that listening to music activates many areas of the brain, including the part that helps us connect with what others are thinking and feeling. Studies show that when parents and young people listen to music together, they have better rapport, less conflict and better emotional health. Sharing your music with another person helps them to get to know you better and vice versa. And if you like each other's music, all the better. Studies show we like people who share our musical preferences. Good listening skills matter in all relationships, but how you talk to and listen to your friends can make the difference between a casual connection and a lasting friendship.
In Greek mythology, the ultimate friendship is described in the story of Damon and Pythias, two best friends who are willing to sacrifice their lives for each other. As the story goes, when Pythias is sentenced to death by the tyrant Dionysius, he is allowed to put his affairs in order only after Damon offers himself as a guarantee that Pythias will return.
On his way back, Pythias encounters pirates and other obstacles that delay him, but Damon never doubts his friend. Just as Damon is slated for execution, Pythias returns. Dionysius is so impressed by their loyalty and friendship, that he frees both of them. Fortunately, most of us will never have to risk everything for our friendships, but true friendships still can ask a lot of us. Not only must we learn to give of ourselves, but we also have to develop listening skills, compassion and empathy to support our closest friends.I like to have a god friend
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What Does It Mean To Be a Good Friend?