Friends who love and support us are really important for living a happy life. Friendships characterized by respect, affection, care and trust can often last a lifetime.
What Is A Friendship?
A friendship is an enduring & close emotional bond between two or more people based on mutual admiration, concern, intimacy and love. Friendships are considered as one of the core pillars of social relationships and a vital aspect of our lives. It is a non-exclusive personal and intimate relationship rooted in care, trust, respect and concern for the well-being of the other friend. As our friends can often shape our beliefs, attitudes and perceptions, we may feel an innate need to be morally concerned about them. According to a 2018 study 1 , friendship is a voluntary interdependence among two individuals involving different activities and varying degrees of mutual assistance, intimacy, companionship & affection and facilitates socio-emotional goals. It also significantly contributes to the overall subjective well-being. The study found that “friendship, in terms of intensity (measured by the frequency with which individuals see their friends) and quality (measured by the satisfaction with friendship relationships), is positively associated to life satisfaction.”
Researchers have found that the quality of friendships can strongly influence our mindset and personality during childhood and adolescence. “Friendship quality is a key indicator of adolescent psychosocial adjustment,” suggests a 2005 study 2 . According to research 3 , friendships, along with relationships with parents, are important for social and emotional adjustment, self-perceptions of social competence and self-esteem in young adolescents. We tend to rely on our friends for psychological and emotional support, motivation and encouragement when we are down, with the intention of doing the same for them. We also depend on them for general social activities that are essential for our emotional and mental health. However, as friendly relationships can face certain issues at times not all friendships may last a lifetime.
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Traits Of A Friendship
The bonding among friends and the longevity of the friendship depends on the level of intimacy between the individuals, their age and the maturity level of the individuals and the circumstances. Children may become best friends within a few hours, while adults, especially shy people, may take weeks or months to develop such a close relationship. It may also be influenced by their culture and their relationship status. But as this is a personal relationship between two individuals, the terms of friendship may vary greatly between different groups of people.
Regardless, all friendships tend to share certain common key features such as:
- A mutual relationship defined by affection, respect, compassion, intimacy, open communication & trust 4
- An intimate relationship involving a dyad or a group of two people who interact frequently
- A source of emotional support, encouragement, companionship and reliable advice reciprocated by both participants
- A non-exclusive, non-obligatory relationship with no formal or legal responsibilities or duties towards each other
- Usually based on the philosophy of egalitarianism where both friends see each other as equals with equal rights & opportunities
- Involves a level of commitment towards each other’s welfare and growth
- Marked by shared interests, activities, beliefs and hobbies
- Both individuals possess a certain level of knowledge about the each other’s personal lives
Friends And The Nature Of Friendships
Our friends have a special place in our lives. They are people we share a close intimate relationship with but they are not our family members or romantic partners. We may have casual, close or best friends but regardless of the degree of intimacy, it is a relationship based on mutual trust, empathy, kindness, loyalty, compassion and fun. We may have some friends with whom we interact almost on a daily basis, while with some others we may talk after years. Yet the bonding and intimacy remains the same even after being apart for years. Although there can be ups and downs in the relationship, friendships are usually a secure, healthy relationship. However, this definition may not be applicable to the modern social media definition of a “friend” as there is a lack of any real connection.
Typically, a friend will stand by our side when we need them, provide us support and may even make necessary sacrifices for our health and well-being 5 . They are someone we trust and rely on. This is a mutual emotion that is observed in both individuals in the relationship. It is a voluntary and interdependent bond with a mutual interest in each other’s happiness, sorrow, thoughts and experiences in a positive manner. We tend to share a sense of connection and belongingness with our friends. According to a 2015 study 6 , we may begin the process of friendship formation during the first few moments of an interpersonal encounter. When we meet someone new, we immediately start assessing the individual and start to decide whether this person can be a friend or just an acquaintance. The researchers found that this decision to build and pursue a friendship tends to be “relatively stable” and depends on the initial stages of the meeting. “Reciprocal liking, personableness, and sense of humor influence friendship formation,” adds the study.
Although it is typically believed that it is better to have more friends in life, we often look for one or two best friends rather than having multiple casual acquaintances. Having casual friendships may be necessary for a healthy social life, but it is important that we have one true close friend who can be our core support system. We share a special connection with our best friend and this bonding can last throughout our entire lives.
Why Friends Are Important
Having a good, reliable and close friend can add value to our lives and make us happier and healthier. Most of us know about the obvious perks of having a good friend, such as companionship, emotional and social support, someone we can confide in, express our thoughts and emotions to and to have fun with and laugh our hearts out. But that is not the true purpose of friendship. Friends help us to grow in life, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. They help us face life’s challenges and change negative behaviors and habits. They help us identify our issues and push us to do things we are too scared to face, things that are good for us in the long run. They help us learn more about our own selves and motivate us to keep going during tough times. “Friendship is a relationship that can endure across the entire lifespan, serving a vital role for sustaining social connectedness in late life when other relationships may become unavailable,” explains a 2019 study 7 .
In fact, close friendships can also be good for our physical and mental health. Studies show that good friendships can have a positive impact on our physiological well-being as we age. Socializing with friends is also directly associated with better health, productivity and performance. One 2017 study 8 found that “friends and coworkers could play a significant role in promoting various health behaviors among adult men in their daily life.” It can also affect our mental health, both positively and negatively. According to a 2013 study 9 , “Friendship pervades the human social landscape. These bonds are so important that disrupting them leads to health problems, and difficulties forming or maintaining friendships attend neuropsychiatric disorders like autism and depression.”
Here are some other reasons why having close friends is so important:
- Prevents loneliness, isolation and social withdrawal
- Provides companionship & enhances sense of belongingness
- Helps to improve mood & reduce stress, anxiety and depression
- Increases joy, happiness 10 and sense of purpose in life
- Improves self-confidence, self-esteem & self-worth
- Helps to deal with adverse life experiences, like unemployment, breakups, loss of a loved one etc
- Encourages to avoid unhealthy habits 11 and make better lifestyle changes
- Helps to improve overall health and longevity
- Helps in overcoming diseases like substance abuse, heart disease, high blood pressure etc
- Reduces risk of mortality 12
In fact, research shows that isolation and a lack of friends can lead to suicidal ideation and behaviors, especially in female adolescents. “The friendship environment affects suicidality for both boys and girls,” found a 2004 study 13 . A lack of meaningful friendships can also contribute to a wide range of mental health issues and psychiatric disorders. One study 14 found that poor friendly relationships during adolescence lead to “social incompetence and maladjustment in adulthood.” The study adds that “having few or no friends is a major diagnostic criterion for a number of psychiatric disorders.” Researchers also found that high quality friendships are positively associated with high self-confidence, self-esteem & social development.
Signs Of Good And Bad Friends
It is important to identify good friends and distinguish them from the bad ones as not all friendships are equal. This is a unique relationship that is rooted in unconditional love, acceptance, trust and mutual respect. Although a good friend may not be in our lives forever, the emotions and genuine care we share with each other is what makes this bond so special.
Here are a few signs that can help you identify good friends in your life:
- They are always there for you regardless of the circumstances
- They listen to you without judgment or criticism and keep your secrets safe
- They know how to make you laugh and comfort you when you cry
- They enjoy your company, pay attention, love spending time with you and make you happy
- They are empathetic towards you as you are with them. They consider & value your feelings without sacrificing theirs
- They understand you even when you are unable to express yourself properly
- They are loyal, trustworthy and tell you the harsh truth to protect you
- They know when & how to let go of arguments and resolve conflict to sustain the friendship
- They learn from past mistakes and forgive without holding grudges
- They are respectful and kind even when you don’t agree with them
- They don’t make you feel bad or hurt your feelings intentionally
However, there are some people who pretend to be your friend for their own gains and purposes without being concerned about your well-being. Here are a few signs of a bad & fake friend:
- They deliberately make you feel bad and disguise it as jokes
- They have a negative energy and are always complaining about their own lives and issues
- They only contact you when they need a favor from you, such as financial assistance but won’t do the same for you
- They always talk negatively about other friends and appear to be jealous of most people
- They are unable to accept positive criticism from you and tend to be aggressive or avoid you
- They are disrespectful and refuse to accept any opinions that contradicts theirs
- They are never available when you need them and always appear to be busy but don’t have social anxiety
- They never understand or respect your other commitments and use guilt and shame to make you spend time with them
Although these signs can’t be generalized as each of us have different personalities, personal lives, responsibilities and commitments, if your friends show these negative traits repeatedly over a long period of time, then they just may be a bad friend.
How To Make Friends
Making new friends can often appear difficult to most of us, regardless of our personality, age or interest. Although being friendly with others and belonging to a group can be easier for children 15 and young adults, it can be really challenging for adults. Children, teenagers and young adults have access to peer groups in schools and colleges which can lead to great and lifelong friendships. However, for adults the process of making new friends can be difficult due to their limited social exposure and small peer groups at the workplace. Although some adults can build good friendships with their coworkers, most prefer avoiding close & intimate relationships with colleagues. This can be even more challenging for adults who do not have access to traditional professional environments, such as freelancers, small business owners and retired individuals. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
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However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you cannot make new friends as an adult. You simply need to think about people who have left a positive impression and inspired you. If you have interacted with these individuals a few times, you may reach out to them and try to know them better. It is important that you take the initiative and invite prospective individuals to spend some time with you over a casual lunch or coffee. You may also need to get out of your comfort zone and be more social. Attend more social gatherings and expand your social network to meet more new people.
Here are some strategies for making new friends:
- Explore new ways to meet new people with similar interests both in person and online
- Be more socially active by visiting clubs, volunteering and participating in other activities
- Accept invitations to events and social gathering instead of refusing or ignoring them
- Invite people you like for a chat over lunch or have coffee with them
- Express your interest in people, ask them questions, listen attentively and give validation
- Be less judgmental about others and be more accepting of others’ personalities, opinions & beliefs
- Pursue your interests and learn new skills that will make you more interesting to others
- Be more empathic, kind, compassionate and supportive towards people
- Go outside and take a walk. Observe if others are open for interaction and talk to them openly
- Seek therapy and gain social skills that will help you overcome introversion and shyness
- Be patient and stay optimistic as building new friendships may take some time
How To Maintain Friendships
Making new friends may appear challenging, but maintaining existing friendships can be equally difficult. Staying in regular contact with old friends is not easy for most of us and as a result we often lose touch with people who are special to us. This is why we may need to take deliberate efforts to sustain old friendships and build a stronger connection. Here are a few ways you can strengthen your friendships:
1. Be there for them
Regardless of how busy you may be or if your friendship has fallen apart over the years, make an effort to support your friends when they need you. This will show that you genuinely care about them even if you may not be in touch.
2. Listen actively
Try to understand what your friend is going through and acknowledge their thoughts, feelings and perceptions. This can happen when you listen to them without judgment. Listen to understand, not to react or give your advice or opinion.
3. Respect boundaries
Personal boundaries are important for any healthy relationship. So make sure to set strong boundaries and also to respect their boundaries as it will prevent you from intruding each other’s private spaces.
4. Know how you can help
One of the best ways to help friends is to find out how they want you to help them. Know what they need during challenging times and offer genuine support.
5. Stay in touch
Even if you don’t interact regularly with them, take steps to stay in touch with them whether in person or over phone calls, texts or on social media. Open & honest communication 16 is crucial in friendships.
6. Share your emotions
Friendship is a two-way street. Friends not only share their happiness, but also their problems and struggles with each other. So talk about your emotions with them as this can strengthen the bond.
7. Avoid being needy
Instead of being clingy or overly reliant on your friends, make sure to give space. Understand that everyone has a personal life and they do value you even though they may be busy.
8. Spend time together
Having fun together is one of the core essence of a good friendship. So reach out to your friends, make plans and do things that you both enjoy. Talk about old memories, share jokes and laugh heartily. According to a 2008 study 17 , “People’s happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected.” So making our friends happy can in turn make us feel more positive.
9. Be honest with them
Friends support one another by often telling them harsh truths that they may not want to hear. Be vocal about your concerns if you feel your friend is in danger, such as excessive substance use, and step up to protect them.
10. Learn to let go
Learn to identify the signs of a toxic friend who can increase your stress and anxiety levels. It’s better to cut past ties at times to build better connections in the future. Research 18 shows that friendships that are “not of high quality” do not tend to survive more than a year.
Friends Are Important
Friendships are important in our life for our psychological, emotion and even physical well-being. Studies 19 have found that “the number of real-life friends is positively correlated with subjective well-being (SWB),” and that friendships are more important to single, divorced, separated or widowed individuals than for people in relationships. Although the relationship can face rough water at times, both individuals and the relationship tend to grow and transform for the better. Although some friendships may fade out gradually, the important ones can last a lifetime as a source of happiness and unconditional support. This is why it is important to identify good friends and make efforts to keep them in your life, while letting the toxic ones go.
Friends At A Glance
- Friendships are considered as one of the core pillars of social relationships and a vital aspect of our lives.
- Having a good, reliable and close friend can add value to our lives and make us happier and healthier.
- This is a unique relationship that is rooted in unconditional love, acceptance, trust and mutual respect.
- Friendships are important in our life for our psychological, emotional and even physical well-being.
- Making new friends may appear challenging, but maintaining existing friendships can be equally difficult.
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