April 16

The Power of Friendship

Christy Shutok, LMHC, LPC

The power of friendship is incredible to witness and to experience. I saw it first-hand in my tween who came home from middle school one day and had finally met her “tribe” half-way through the school year. As a mother who tries hard not to helicopter and worry too much, I was secretly relieved. I noticed an immediate change and improvement in her attitude, confidence, and overall happiness. It motivated me to learn more about how meaningful friendships affect our well-being.   

How many friends is enough?

Social networks can range from 250 to 5,500 connections, however, humans only trust about 10-20 people.  Research says that from 1984 to 2004, the average number of confidants that people reported have decreased from 3 to 2. Now the average is 0-1. And that is not considering the impact of the recent pandemic.  Also, people in a romantic relationship or family usually make less time for friends than single folks. But studies show that we enjoy time with friends more than our spouse or children!

What is the magic of friendship?

Spending time with friends is fulfilling. Real time, not text time or face time. Have you ever noticed after a night with a group of friends how good you feel? Or do you wonder why you do not do it more often? Spending time with friends boosts our confidence and increases our sense of purpose and belonging. Friends influence us, they impact and shape our lives. When we are living in socially connected relationships, we thrive. When we are not, loneliness sets in. Chronic loneliness increases the risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes. It also can cause mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and addiction.

How do we find friends?

Sometimes finding friends can be challenging, but not impossible. Especially now, during what is hopefully the final months of a very long pandemic. But even without the social distancing, finding people that can become true long-term friends is not easy. Some of us have friends from childhood, if we have been lucky enough to keep those precious relationships alive. Consider your interests and hobbies; or find a new one. Meeting others with similar interests can be the foundation to a new relationship. We typically choose friends based on virtue, those who hold the same values as ourselves. Not comfortable walking up to someone in the grocery store or gym? Try an online app to make a new friend!

How do we make friends?

There are several factors to consider when considering friendship. Time is an important one. One study from University of Kansas found that it takes about 50 hours of socializing to go from acquaintance to casual friend, an additional 40 hours to become a “real” friend, and a total of 200 hours to become a close friend. That sounds like a lot of work! But do not get discouraged. Start small, even start by rekindling relationships with people you already know. It does not necessarily have to be a brand-new friend. And when you spend time together, use open body language, good listening skills, and build trust by practicing self-disclosure.

Still not convinced?

Friendship is good for your health. No matter if you are female or male, having friends is a good thing. People with a wide network of friends have less tension, suffered from less stress, had stronger defenses, and lived longer. Friends encourage good habits, chase away depression, help you overcome diseases and cause satisfaction, pleasure, and happiness. So, start reaching out today, strike up a conversation at the gym, chat with your neighbor, or pick up the phone and call someone you have not talked to in a while. It is worth the effort and it is good for your heart and your soul.

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