This morning I went to the library to pick up a book I had on hold. On my arrival I got a wonderful surprise. A friend I lost touch with about twenty years ago when I moved away was borrowing books. We had a hug and did a quick catch up of some of the events in our lives over the past two decades. Then we arranged to meet for coffee later in the week. I left feeling on top of the world, positive and full of energy.
I have read plenty of information about the importance of having a social network. However, even if I hadn’t read any of this I would just know it was good for me to spend time with friends. It makes me feel so good at the time and afterwards as well. I just love to get together with a real friend and talk, talk, talk.
Some people are friends, an important part of our life, for decades. It could be someone you met at school or who lived nearby when you were a child. My mother had a group of friends from her college days. Each year they had a ‘gang reunion’. I found it amazing that when she died there was a lady at her funeral who had been a friend for seventy years.
There are other friends who are important to us for a short time and then we drift and lose touch. When I was first married we were close friends with another young couple. When they went interstate for a year so the husband could do his internship we looked after some of their furniture and their tropical fish. We were so excited when they let us know they were coming back. We had a meal together, eager to talk about all that had happened over the year. However, whatever had bonded us previously was gone. They picked up their fish and furniture and we lost touch soon after.
However, there are other friends whom I haven’t seen for ten years or longer and when we have got together the connection has still been there. It could be yesterday we last talked. The bond is as strong as ever, but when did the children grow so tall? I don’t know why some friendships are easy to pick up where you left off and others just fade, even if you have the opportunity for frequent contact.
What are the benefits of having friends, besides the fact that you feel great when you are spending time together? Research has shown that having close friends increases self confidence, boosts self esteem and makes people feel they have more control over their lives. People with a strong social network are less likely to suffer depression.
An Australian study carried out over a ten year period found people with a strong social network are 22% more likely to live longer. They are also more likely to live longer after a heart attack and when sick or injured feel less pain. Cancer patients have a greater rate of recovery if they have a close circle of friends.
Research has found the brain releases the hormone oxytocin following a positive social connection. Oxytocin reduces inflammation and causes wounds to heal more quickly. It also tends to decrease anxiety and feelings of stress.
As people get older they are usually more selective regarding who they choose as friends so tend to spend more time with people they really like. I guess this is because they have learned from experience that life is too short to spend large amounts of time with people who make them feel bad in some way. People with a strong social network are less likely to get dementia.
Although friends are good for your physical and psychological health, they can cause you stress. Studies show arguments with friends will cause more stress than a disagreement with someone you aren’t connected to. That isn’t surprising because you don’t want to have a falling out with someone you are close to. You care what your friends think and say to you. You feel bad if something you say or do upsets them.
Our true friends are there for us in good times and bad. Friends celebrate with us and are pleased for us when life is going well. They listen to us when we need to vent or have a cry. Friends encourage us to get out of the house and do something different when we are in a bit of a slump. As Charles R. Swindoll said,‘I cannot even imagine where I would be today were it not for that handful of friends who have given me a heart full of joy. Let's face it, friends make life a lot more fun.’