Friendships: Enrich your life and improve your health

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Friendships: Enrich your life and improve your health

Friendships can have a major impact on your health and well-being, but it's not always easy to build or maintain friendships. Understand the importance of friendships in your life and what you can do to develop and nurture friendships.

What are the benefits of friendships?

Good friends are good for your health. Friends can help you celebrate good times and provide support during bad times. Friends prevent loneliness and give you a chance to offer needed companionship, too. Friends can also:

  • Increase your sense of belonging and purpose
  • Boost your happiness
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve your self-worth
  • Help you cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one
  • Encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise

Why is it sometimes hard to make friends or maintain friendships?

Many adults find it hard to develop new friendships or keep up existing friendships. Friendships may take a back seat to other priorities, such as work or caring for children or aging parents. You and your friends may have grown apart due to changes in your lives or interests. Or maybe you've moved to a new community and haven't yet found a way to meet people. Developing and maintaining good friendships takes effort. The enjoyment and comfort friendship can provide, however, makes the investment worthwhile.

What's a healthy number of friends?

There's no need to aim for a specific number of friends. Some people benefit from a large and diverse network of friends, while others prefer a smaller circle of friends and acquaintances. There are also different types of friendship. You may have a few close friends you turn to for deeply personal conversations, and more casual friends with whom you see movies, play basketball or share backyard cookouts. Consider what works for you. Overall, the quality of your relationships is more important than the specific number of friends you have.

What are some ways to meet new people?

You can take steps to meet people and develop friendships. For example:

  • Take your child — or pet — for a walk. Chat with neighbors who are also out and about or head to a popular park and strike up conversations there.
  • Work out. Take a class at a local gym, senior center or community fitness facility. Start a lunchtime walking group at work.
  • Do lunch. Invite an acquaintance to join you for coffee or a meal.
  • Accept invites. When you're invited to a social gathering, say yes. Contact someone who recently invited you to an activity and return the favor.
  • Volunteer. Offer your time or talents at a hospital, place of worship, museum, community center, charitable group or other organization. You can form strong connections when you work with people who have mutual interests.
  • Attend community events. 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. Find a group with similar interests in an activity, such as auto racing, gardening, reading or making crafts.
  • Go to school. Take a college or community education course to meet people who have similar interests.
  • Join a faith community. Take advantage of special activities and get-to-know-you events for new members.

Above all, stay positive. You may not become friends with everyone you meet, but maintaining a friendly attitude and demeanor can help you improve the relationships in your life and sow the seeds of friendship with new acquaintances.

How does social media affect friendships?

Joining a chat group or online community might help you make or maintain connections and relieve loneliness. However, research suggests that use of social networking sites doesn't necessarily translate to a larger offline network or closer offline relationships with network members. In addition, remember to exercise caution when sharing personal information or arranging an activity with someone you've only met online.

How can I nurture my friendships?

Developing and maintaining healthy friendships involves give-and-take. Sometimes you're the one giving support, and other times you're on the receiving end. Letting friends know you care about them and appreciate them can help strengthen your bond. It's as important for you to be a good friend as it is to surround yourself with good friends.

To nurture your friendships:

  • Go easy. Don't overwhelm friends with phone calls, texts, instant messages or emails. Respect your friends' boundaries.
  • Don't compete. Don't let friendships turn into a battle over who makes the most money or who has the nicest home.
  • Adopt a healthy, realistic self-image. Work on building your self-esteem by taking care of yourself — eat a healthy diet and include physical activity in your daily routine. Vanity and constant self-criticism can be turnoffs to potential friends.
  • Avoid relentless complaining. Nonstop complaining can put a strain on your friendships. Talk to your friends about how you can change the parts of your life that make you unhappy.
  • Adopt a positive outlook. Try to find the humor in things. Laughter is infectious and appealing.
  • Listen up. Ask what's going on in your friends' lives. Avoid talking about your own problems all the time. Try to only give advice when your friends ask for it.
  • Don't judge. Give your friends space to change, grow and make mistakes. Encourage your friends to freely express their emotions.
  • Respect privacy. Keep confidential any personal information that your friends share with you. Try not to ask questions that make your friends uncomfortable.

Remember, it's never too late to build new friendships or reconnect with old friends. Investing time in making friends and strengthening your friendships can pay off in better health and a brighter outlook for years to come.

Last Updated: 2011-04-16
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