In many societies, romantic relationships are considered the most important. However, friendships, which encompass varying degrees of emotional intimacy and support, should not be dismissed. If you asked people to think deeply about the most important relationships in their lives, many would say their friendships have impacted them the most. Why? What makes friendship so significant? Here are ten reasons:
#1 Friendship is linked to better heart health
Humans are a communal species. We weren’t meant to be socially isolated. If we do end up lonely, it affects our physical health in a major way. Loneliness has been connected to health issues like heart disease and high blood pressure. When someone does have a close group of friends, their physical health is better. The Mayo Clinic’s page on friendships states that adults with strong friendships enjoy a reduced risk for heart disease and high blood pressure.
#2 Friendship improves your immunity
The strength of your immune system is very important to good health. Without a strong immune system, you’re vulnerable to all kinds of diseases. Experts believe there’s a link between strong social support and stronger immune systems and anti-inflammatory responses. That leads to a decreased risk for diseases like arthritis and even some cancers.
#3 Friendship keeps your brain healthier
In 2012, experts followed over 2,000 residents who were 65 or older in the Netherlands. At the beginning of the 3-year study, none of the participants had dementia. By the end, over 13% of those who said they felt lonely at the study’s start developed dementia. This doesn’t necessarily mean that feeling lonely caused dementia, but there’s an association. In 2019, another study found an association between loneliness and cognitive decline, suggesting that healthy friendships could reduce the risk of dementia.
#4 Friendship helps reduce stress
Everyone experiences stress, but if stress becomes severe and persistent, it has major health effects. Friendships are an important way to reduce stress, according to Harvard Medical School. Friends provide emotional support and distractions through fun activities and conversations. Without friends to lean on during stressful times, a person is more vulnerable to destructive coping mechanisms like drinking or substance abuse.
#5 Friendship is linked to longer lifespans
Considering friendship’s effect on your health, it makes sense that those benefits mean a longer life. Studies indicate that older adults with strong communities are more likely to outlive adults who have less strong connections. In a review of 148 studies that included over 300,000 participants, researchers found a link between healthy friendships and longer lifespans.
#6 Friendship increases happiness
Social connections, even ones that aren’t that deep, can lift a person’s mood. According to a 2014 study, interacting with anyone – including more casual acquaintances – helped people feel happier. Happiness is also contagious, which means if you spend time with happy people, you’re more likely to feel good, too. This is true even online. According to research by Tubingen University, when online users read positive posts, 64% of them were affected positively.
#7 Friendship can motivate you
Because humans are built for community, the opinions and actions of others influence us. If your community is supportive, it becomes much easier to fulfill your goals, whether it’s work or something in your personal life. Even if you’re generally able to motivate yourself most of the time, there are always moments when you feel discouraged. Talking to a trusted, supportive friend often serves as the spark to get you motivated again.
#8 Friendship provides emotional support
Many people suffer from mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. Research suggests a link between strong social networks and reduced risk for symptoms of mental illness. In one study, people who had close friendships when they were teenagers have lower rates of depression and anxiety later in their lifetimes. Mental illness is complicated and friendship is not a replacement for professional treatment, but it makes sense that people with strong friendships often feel better.
#9 Friendship boosts self-esteem
Healthy self-esteem is very important to a person’s happiness and success in life. Research shows that high self-esteem is associated with better mental health and better stress management. People who are secure in who they are can face all kinds of adversity. While many things can break down your self-esteem, good friendships build it back up. Rather than prey on your insecurities and encourage doubt, healthy friends will reassure you when you’re down, provide support through difficult times, and praise who you are as a person.
#10 Friendship helps you improve other relationships
Friendships are just one type of relationship, but they help you develop social skills that apply anywhere. As an example, maintaining a healthy friendship requires good communication, honesty, and respect. These are essential for romantic partnerships, professional relationships, and familial relationships. If someone does not have healthy friendships, they’re likely continuing unhealthy patterns elsewhere. If you do maintain good friendships, your other relationships are more likely to be healthy, too.