Friendship: An Elixir for Good Health and Well-Being

wbFriendshipBy Dave Hood

Words are easy, like the wind; Faithful friends are hard to find. ― William Shakespeare

Author Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project,” suggests this about friendship: “Having strong social bonds is probably the most meaningful contributor to our happiness.”

Some friendships are desirable and pleasurable, and improve the quality of our lives. Other friendships bring strife and misery, and can become toxic to our health. The best friendships add meaning and purpose to our lives, improve our mental and physical health, and boost our sense of well being.

Studies in positive psychology have shown that if you have five or more friends who can provide social a social connection and offer support in times of misfortune or stress, you will be much happier than the person who has no friends.

Where do we discover friendships? What are the best and worst types of friendships? How do we develop and maintain friendship? How does friendship improve our well-being?

Discovering Friendship

Anais Nin wrote, “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” Every encounter offers the opportunity for a friendship. You meet people, have an opportunities to get to know them, and develop friendships in many ways, such as by a chance encounter; at school; on a trip or vacation; intentional effort; introduction from other friends; at a dance; playing sports; attending a party; on social media, such as a dating site or Facebook. These friendships are identified by their purpose, sexual attraction, connectedness, proximity, closeness, value, interests, and so forth. We use terms like true friends, platonic friends, casual friends, best friends, blood brothers, friends with benefits, pen pals, virtual friends on social media, toxic friendships, and former friend to describe these relationships. Some friendships last a short time; other friendships endure a lifetime.

Friendships drift apart for many reasons. For instance, when a work friend leaves a job, you no longer have time at work to see them. Or if the friend moves to another city, province, state, or country—you don’t have fewer opportunities to enjoy quality time with them. Sometimes friendship ends through no fault of our own. You just grow apart as time passes. Other times one or the other person neglects the friendship or acquires other friendships. Therefore maintaining a friendship is often difficult.

Best Types of Friendship
The best type of friendship is a “best friend,” followed by a good friendship. Aristotle said this about a good friendship: “A single soul dwelling in two bodies.” Best friends and good friendships improve the quality of our lives. There is a bond and connection, enjoyment and meaning, trust and loyalty, appreciation. Best friends and good friendship are difficult to find and should be cherished. If you have one best friend throughout your life, you are blessed.

What are the characteristics of a good or best friendship? The friendship is desirable, good natured, enjoyable, and unique in some way. For instance, the friends are connected by some common interest, such as a love of hockey or baseball or theatre or art.

Friends respect each other by not criticizing or devaluing or mocking. If one of the friends asks for advice, the other friend will provide an honest, respectful response.

They spend quality time with each other. They engage in conversation over coffee, laughing at jokes. They might see a movie, attend a class together, participate in a sport, and so forth. At the very least, friends talk on the telephone, when distance prevents them from spending time in person.

Friends trust each other, and so they are able to share secrets, knowing their privacy won’t be violated.

They accept each other’s shortcomings, weaknesses, and failures. Elbert Hubbard said, “A good friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.”

Friends are loyal, always providing support, especially when a friend is struck by misfortune and must endure hardship.

They realize the value of the friendship and express appreciation, remembering a birthday, sending a get well card, calling to say “hello.”

Friends celebrate achievements or accomplishments. When you succeed, a friend will congratulate you.

They reciprocate by exchanging mutual benefits. For instance, if you call and leave a message, a thoughtful friend will return the call. If you invite them for dinner, a thoughtful friend will also invite you for dinner. It is not possible to have a good friendship without give and take or the exchange of value.

Most Undesirable Type of Friendship

Toxic friends are worst and most undesirable types of friendships. In fact, it’s better to be alone and have no friends than one who is toxic to your well-being. A toxic friend will contaminate your life and poison your soul. Perhaps the toxic friend continually insults you, never celebrates your achievements, and never has anything nice to say. Perhaps the toxic friend is always complaining, always being needy, and never reciprocating. Perhaps the toxic friend is verbally or physically abusive, or indifferent to the friendship. Perhaps the toxic friend is always unsupportive, or tells you how you should live your life, or expresses jealousy or envy. Perhaps the toxic friend is selfish and self-centered, insincere, always focusing on their own needs and desires. Perhaps the toxic friend is a bad influence, has a problem with alcohol or drugs. Perhaps the friend is immoral or unethical.

You can easily identify a toxic friendship. Here are the signs:

• The friend will always diminish your energy and stress you out.

• The friend will often put you in a bad mood by arguing, complaining, criticizing you, or telling you what to do.

• The friend is often insincere, telling you that he or she values the friendship but doesn’t follow up with action. You feel as if you are being manipulated.

• The friend will never reciprocate, never show appreciation, never returns calls—and so you don’t know where you stand in the friendship. In other words, toxic friends are unreliable.

• The friend might second-guess you, which undermines your confidence.

• The person might make you feel anger or resentful, which creates stress.

• When you spend time together, there is no pleasure or enjoyment. Instead, it feels like work.

• You might make excuses to avoid them. For instance, when the toxic friend calls, you don’t pick up the telephone.

• You might grow to dislike them but maintain the friendship because of habit.

• The toxic friend brings out your dark side, causing you to express anger or insults in an effort to defend yourself.

• You will often feel as though you are unable to remove yourself from the friendship, or you feel trapped, like a bad habit you cannot break.

• You might feel the other person is taking advantage of you.

How do you deal with a toxic friend? This type of relationship can hurt you or even destroy you, unless you eliminate the toxicity. The first step is recognizing the toxicity, and then you must take responsibility for yourself. If you don’t, you are allowing the person to treat you with disrespect. You can express your need for respect in several ways, such as by telling the person that changes must be made, by distancing yourself, by setting boundaries, or by decapitating the friendship. Often the only way to save “yourself” is to end the friendship.

How to Develop Friendships

You must put yourself in a position where you can socially interact with others, perhaps playing baseball on a team, taking daily yoga classes, attending a film festival. Once you are socially interacting with others, you must be able to connect, as well as leave a good impression. Dale Carnegie, author of the classic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” provides some important advice on developing friendship. Here are a few of his suggestions:

  1. When you meet someone, find out their name, and then always call them by name. It makes the person feel important.

2. When you meet someone, always smile and say, “hello.” It suggests that you are approachable, warm, friendly, willing to interact.

3. As you engage in conversation, find out what are the other person’s interests and passions. Then ask questions and listen—and don’t interrupt.

4. Focus on their interests. Perhaps the person enjoys discussing baseball, literature, art, music. The key is to find out what interests them and then focus the conversation on those topics.

5. Encourage the person to talk about themselves, and never dominate a conversation by always talking. Don’t interrupt.

6. Never criticize, complain, or condemn the other person once they shared opinions or perspectives. Instead listen without judgement. If you criticize, you will almost always lose the opportunity to develop a friendship. It’s best to always show respect for the other person, even when you disagree or don’t like what they are telling you.

7. If a person makes a mistake, for instance, share the wrong facts or mispronounces a word, don’t point it out or mock them. Instead, allow the person to save face.

8. Never argue with the other person. It only creates conflict and division. If you desire to develop a friendship, you must show that you can get along with other people.

How to Maintain Friendship

Most people are able to develop friendships but maintaining them becomes a challenge. People neglect their friendships for various reasons. One of the friends might be too busy with family, children, and work. The person might assume the other friend will always be available. Sometimes, you lose interest, especially if the other person is always complaining, needy, pessimistic. People move to other cities and change schools, are promoted to other jobs. Sometimes friends change or grow apart. Often we have other priorities, such as graduating from university, working out, enjoying time with a girlfriend, and so forth. Sometimes you learn that your friends are not really friends are selfish or self-centred, and so you become exasperated with the friendship. Sometimes friends become toxic, for instance, the friend never celebrate your achievements or accomplishments. Sometimes a friend doesn’t appreciate the friendship or develops other friends.

You cannot control how are friends behave, but you can do certain things to improve the chances of maintaining a friendship. You must make the effort and find time for the friendship. You must maintain contact—via email, telephone, regular interaction. If you don’t, you lose touch. People move on and find new friends. You must spend quality time with your friend, and this quality time should be spent on enjoyable or pleasurable leisure pursuit and activities. Virtual friends on social media, such as Facebook, are not real friends for this reason.

You must be friendly, pleasant, upbeat, good natured, optimistic, and desirable to associate with. No one looks forward to hanging out with someone who is always arguing, complaining, criticizing. Few people desire to spend large amounts of time with a depressing person who believes the worst will always happen.

You must rejoice in your friend’s achievements and accomplishments. For instance, a friend is promoted at work, you can congratulate

You must be loyal to your friends. Don’t criticize friends. Don’t condemn friends. Avoid arguments with them.

You must express appreciation for the friendship, such as wishing a friend “happy birthday,” or buying them a drink the bar, or giving them a gift at Christmas. Friends show generosity of spirit. This spirit can be expressed as compassion, empathy, understanding, listening to a friend in need, helping a friend when he or she requires assistance.

You must also reciprocate with your friend, which means that if the telephone rings and a message is left, you return the call. If an email is sent, you respond to the email. If you ignore or express indifference to your friends, you will lose them.

Benefits of Friendship

Human beings are social animals who require food, shelter, clothing, water, as well as love and social interaction. Sometimes this social interaction is two lovers, for instance, a boyfriend and girlfriend, or husband and wife, or common law partners. Friendship is one of the elixirs of a good life, providing many benefits. Here are a few:

• Friendship helps you cope with misfortune, such as job loss, illness, death of a spouse. A true friend is a refuge in times of trouble. For instance, when you break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, your friends are by your side, providing support and encouragement. The best of friends support you in the worst of time.

• Good Friendship will create a social bond or connection, someone to share activities and experiences. This harmony of friendship creates meaning and purpose in your life.

• A desirable friendship adds pleasure to your life. For instance, you can sit and laugh at a joke together or engage in conversation at the baseball game. With a friend, you can celebrate the good times, like the time the Blue Jays won the World Series. Often, many of our fond memories are those spend with friends, perhaps going canoeing and camping, or rock climbing up a steep cliff or skiing down the slopes, or taking a trip to some exotic destination.

• Friendship can reduce stress in your life. When we are worried or upset, a good friend will listen to our troubles, provide encouragement and emotional support.

• Good friendship boosts your self-esteem and validates your self-worth. For instance, the friend might say, “I really appreciate your sense of humour.” You then tell yourself, “I have a good sense of humour.”

• Good friendships can expand your interests and experiences. For instance, a friend might introduce you to new cuisine, books, art, film, music, travel, dancing.

• Those who have a network of good friendships tend to live longer than those who don’t.

• A good friend will also provide you with a fresh perspective. You will see life from your own point of view, and they will often share a different point of view.

• Friendship improves our happiness and well-being. They add meaning and purpose to life.

Final Thoughts
Helen Keller, who was blind, once said, “I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.” Without friendship, most people live melancholy, desperate, and lonely lives, disconnected and isolated, focused solely on themselves and their unhappiness. A good friendship requires regular social interaction and mutual affection. It’s also based on respect, social support, trust, empathy, and compassion. A good friendship provides pleasure and enjoyment. Rather than do things on our own, we can share common interests and activities, as well as journey through life with a companion. A good friendship also adds meaning and purpose to our lives, dramatically improves our mental health and well-being. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus said it best: “Of all the things that wisdom provides for living one’s entire life in happiness, the greatest by far is the possession of friendship.”

Additional Reading
For more information on friendship, read the following:

  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
  • Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
  • Toxic Friends: A Practical Guide to Recognizing and Dealing with Unhealthy Friendships by Loraine Smith-Hines
  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
  • The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky

About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
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