I’m sure that we can all agree that this year has been overwhelming. Fortunately, thanks to the use of different digital technologies, we've been able to maintain certain aspects of our communities in new ways. The current environment of social distancing has heightened our appreciation of different relational connections, especially those beyond our direct quarantine circles. Simply put, friendships probably mean more to us now than ever before. Having friends plays a very crucial role in our wellness throughout different seasons of our lives. Though the research surrounding this topic is relatively new, developing studies generally indicate that having healthy friendships correlates to better health outcomes. (And unsurprisingly, toxic friendships can lead to worse health outcomes.) This is exciting news, but it's important to bear in mind that it can be difficult to generate experiments about friendship because it is such a complex, multifaceted, and situational thing. It can be hard to establish controls for distinct relational variables. In the studies that have been conducted, friendships appear to heighten what researchers call a participant’s subjective well-being (SWB). That admittedly sounds vague. SWB may hold a lot of weight in academic discussions of friendship, but it doesn’t give us a sense of how much friendship helps us in our day to day lives. Here are 3 more concrete ways that healthy friendships shape our wellness journeys for the better:
- A sense of belonging– Though some people are more comfortable being alone than others, everyone needs community to thrive. No one can live in complete social isolation in a healthy way. Also, since people have different relationships to their families, having friends can be a way we can generate our own sense of family with the people that surround us in different stages of our lives. Meaningful friendships can remind us that we actively contribute to something beyond ourselves and that our intrinsic value doesn’t lie in what we’re able to produce.
- Reduced stress– Putting up facades and fitting into certain societal roles, while sometimes necessary, can be absolutely exhausting and stressful. By having true friends, we just let loose, have a good time, and feel free to be our wholly authentic selves. In experiencing this freedom, we release stress and the more our stress levels are reduced, the more likely we’ll be able to prevent conditions like insomnia, poor immune health, heart problems, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Even though there isn't necessarily a direct correlation between friendship and the prevention of these conditions indicated in current research, there is somewhat of a conjectured correlation between friendship and stress reduction and less stress translates to a lower risk of certain health problems.
- Personal development– In having other people as friends, we are also friends to other people. This mutual relational connection means that we become the kind of people others want to befriend. We become a better people overall in being good to our friends. We then learning how to value relationships in multiple spheres of our lives, fortifying our sense of purpose and reinforcing our physical and emotional longevity.
This holiday season, even though it looks a little bit different than previous years, let's really celebrate the beauty of friendships and the fact that the people we choose to be in our lives are still connected to us, albeit in new ways. We need to be grateful for them and treat them well. Let’s also be patient with one another as it might be harder for us to stay in contact during this tumultuous time, while remembering that the love and care still endures.