The Value of Friendship? PRICELESS!

When I was young, I loved to sing Dionne Warwick and Stevie Wonder’s song, “That’s What Friends Are For”, at the top of my lungs!

The song just made me so happy! Especially the chorus:

Keep smiling, keep shining,

Knowing you can always count on me!
For sure! That’s what friends are for!

In good times, and bad times,
I’ll be by your side forever more! That’s what friends are for!

I remember saying that I wanted that to be my theme song, because that was the kind of friend I wanted to be. Little did I know that it would not always be as easy as it sounded!

The dictionary defines friend as “a person attached to another by feelings of affection and/or personal regard.”

However, now that you can friend people on other continents on social media, whom you have never met, it has taken on a much more casual meaning. And sad to say, real friendships are on a fast decline. Most people in the mid 1980’s said they had an average of 5 friends that they were close to and could count on. Just 20 years later, it had declined to 2.08. It is still on the decline.

Why? Research says it is for the following reasons:

  • People see friendships as accountability, and many are reticent to be accountable
  • Some see that friendships require work and investment, and choose to use their time and energy on other things
  • As “Me! Me! Me! … It’s all about ME!” becomes more and more of a theme in our culture, the less friendships are apt to be successful.

Today I’d like to share about the meaning of true friendship, and the great benefits that come with it.

A lot of research regarding friendship has emerged over the past 10 years. To give the research some commonly accepted structure, researchers have agreed that friendship usually has the following aspects:

  • Call on one another to grow and become better 
  • Equality in give and take
  • Commitment to working on the friendship
  • Honesty
  • Being trustworthy
  • Being able to trust
  • Loyalty
  • Ability to experience and express appropriate sympathy & empathy
  • Being non-judgmental
  • Being a good communicator, with a great ability to listen
  • Ability to support in good times
  • Ability to support in bad times
  • Self-confidence in the relationship
  • Ability to laugh and have fun together

By the way, I also use this list in my premarital classes. I give it to couples as a checklist, and after they have scored themselves and their partner, I tell them to evaluate each other’s checkmarks independently, using these guidelines:

90 to 100% checkmarks = awesome potential in marriage

80 to 90% checkmarks = good potential in marriage

60 to 80% checkmarks = proceed to marriage with caution
Less than 60% = Run Forrest RUN!

Most of us only have three to five very close friends in our inner circle. It would certainly be an interesting exercise for you to write down their names of your inner circle and determine how many of those characteristics each of you have in the relationship. Not surprisingly, research shows that the more checkmarks, the stronger the relationship.

Why does it matter how strong the relationship is? Because research says that the many health benefits received from friendships are increased dramatically as the strength of the relationship increases.

So what are some of these benefits?

  1. Stronger immune systems
    Our body’s ability to ward off sickness and disease is significantly increased. 
  2. Improved self-confidence

Researchers believe that strong friendships offer support, reassurance, and a helping hand. All of these things have been shown to increase one’s self-confidence.

3. Improved overall health

Researchers have found that people with good friends tend to have a healthier lifestyle, including exercise and more healthy eating habits. As a result, studies have found that people with strong friendships have less obesity, lower blood pressure, stronger cardiovascular systems, and lesser likelihood of being diagnosed with cancer and arthritis. In addition, there is significantly less depression.

4. Lowered stress levels

Medical research has shown that friendship plays a role in the way the body processes stress. In addition, when close friendships exist, it has been shown that the body produces less of the stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, both of which have negative health effects.

5. Increased happiness

Studies have shown that people with close friendships have a higher happiness quotient than those without. Other research shows the greater the happiness quotient in our lives, the less depression, anxiety, sickness and disease we are likely to experience.

6. Life extension

Research indicates that people with one or two strong friendships are far less likely to die prematurely. One study indicated that friendships has a greater significance on lifespan than exercise, and further, that it has more health benefits regarding longevity than quitting smoking.

7. Sharper mind

People who are lonely have been found to have a greater than 25% chance of being diagnosed with dementia of some sort. On the other hand, those who reported strong healthy friendships (and even higher for those in strong significant relationships that also considered their partner a great friend) were at less risk of being diagnosed with any type of dementia disorder.

Interestingly enough, these benefits increase exponentially when your best friendship is the person with whom you are in a committed relationship with or married to. Sadly, too few couples report a deep friendship. It’s been speculated that the lack of deep friendships among couples may be due to a reliance on simple familiarity, a lack of investing in the relationship, and partners’ making their best deposits into other relationships.

Of course it’s very healthy for couples to each have friendships outside of their relationship. But the very best lives result when partners invest more into their most intimate relationship than they do into their friendships. The exponential rewards of better health and in better quality of life are well worth it!

While we often fill our friendship slots with family, research has shown that the health benefits are greater when significant friendships exist outside of family.  We obviously want to be friends with our adult children and our parents. But recent research indicates that friendships outside of family appear to be at least 20 times more likely to have a positive impact on our health and well-being. Interesting and perhaps a bit counterintuitive.

Friendships that are not truly solid or balanced also create greater health concerns. For example, in one study where people reported they had one or more friends who were a source of strain, they were 10 times more likely to report a chronic illness.

Another interesting tidbit is that after age 60, the friendships that cause strain increase health risks dramatically. Likewise, for those over 60 who reported strong and healthy friendships, there was a dramatic reduction in symptoms of aging. Wow.

Are we losing a bit of the art of friendship? It appears to be the case that the art of friendship is waning. As I considered my friendships, and checked through the list above, I became aware of several things.

One was that I am often guilty of investing more in friendships without balance. Another is that I have difficulty staying connected to people who aren’t interested in growing and becoming better. I seem to need more friends to challenge me to do the same!

I remember a conversation with my mother that I still laugh about to this day. One of my family members had made the comment that, “I’m perfectly happy and satisfied with myself just the way I am. And if people can’t accept me or hope I’ll become better, they just need to move on! And if anyone thinks. ‘that’s totally narcissistic’…Oh well …!!!” My mother, who had nothing negative to say to or about anyone, ever, chuckled, and replied, “I never told you that… I don’t know how you found out!” We all laughed out loud because it was so atypical of her! And, it carried a strong message to the person who had said it! 

Although it was a loose use of the word “narcissistic,” I realized that I wanted to surround myself with friends who are always growing and becoming better. And who challenge me to do the same! That’s a real friend!

As a great philosopher said, “to stop growing, and to lay down the God given yearning to become better, is to give up living.” 

I also learned that I have been blessed with wonderful friends in my life. An ancient proverb says: “A friend loves at all times!” That’s the true measure of friendship. My hope and prayer is that I can grow and become even better at being a friend.

I hope and pray you have strong friendships. If you don’t, I pray that you will work to develop them. Use the information in this blog to help you. 

Strong friendships will lead you to great health and quality-of-life benefits.

Good friends are good for our health, our hearts, and our souls!