Is having friends a good thing? As we move into adulthood with responsibilities of a family, work and meeting your partner’s needs sometimes friendships, especially those that have been in place for a long time, fall by the way side and are treated as last in the list. Then comes the guilt you feel when you eventually meet up! I will admit to you that I struggle to manage my time and make the quality time needed to catch up, time drifts on and suddenly it’s been six months since I’ve seen my best friends.
I decided to do a little research into the science of friendship and discovered that having friends is hugely important to our wellbeing and happiness levels. As Robert Louis Stephenson said “a friend is a present you give yourself”.
Friendship makes you braver
A particularly fascinating study looked at how social factors can influence our perception, in this case of a geographical slant, a steep hill. Participants when stood looking at the hill with a friend believed it to be less steep when they were stood alone. A further experiment asked the participant to imagine their friend was there while standing alone. Again this made the hill appear less daunting to the participant.
This study suggests that just having our friends physically or mentally there enables us to take on greater challenges, be braver and have more confidence.
Our bodies are wired for friendship
Genetically our bodies are wired for friendship. When we build or make a new friendship the connection hormone Oxytocin surges in our brain which helps reduce stress and creates pleasurable feelings. We literally feel happier when we make a new friend or connect with an old one.
However more importantly negative social interactions could have an effect on our health. A study carried out by Carnegie Mellon found that negative social interactions increase the risk of high blood pressure and hypertension in older adults, particularly women. Therefore the more positive interactions that we have, the greater the impact on our health.
Friendship helps us survive
Evolutionary psychologists argue that friendship is actually something our ancestors needed for survival. Having a friend back in our caveman days meant that you had someone to help you hunt and forage and therefore make it more likely that you find food. Also you had an ally to help protect you in case of attack. This is genetic pre-wiring so much so that our subconscious minds still check people’s hands when we meet them to ensure that they are not holding a weapon.
Now you know how important that your friends are scientifically to your well-being, I challenge you to make sure you make time for your friends. I have scheduled the next 6 months with my closest friends to ensure that I see them at least once a month. This has already helped me feel more positive, as I enjoy spending time with my friends more often and being a more active part in their lives. Secondly I also gain joy through knowing that I have these booked into my diary, it makes me happy to look forward to these times. Try it out for yourself and let me know how you get on!