Friendships wield a significant influence on our overall health and well-being, yet building and sustaining them can be quite challenging at times. At different stages of our life, we are busier than at others and may find ourselves not having time to sustain a range of relationships. However, it is really important to recognise the pivotal role of social connections in our life and explore strategies to cultivate enduring friendships in particular. Studies show that the maximum number of true friendships that you can expect to have over your lifetime is from three to five. The message is clear: quantity over quality.
What is a true friend?
A true friend is someone you feel safe being open and honest with, and they feel the same. They are there through both the good and the bad times. The presence of such people in your life is instrumental in maintaining your health. They provide support during tough times, celebrate your joys, and stave off isolation and loneliness. Loneliness is now considered an illness, such is the negative effect it has on our overall health. With a decreasing rate of marriage, the role that true friends play in your life is more important than ever.
The value of true friendships is huge; it can:
- Heighten your sense of belonging and purpose
- Elevate your happiness and diminish stress
- Enhance your self-confidence and self-worth
- Assist you in coping with adversities like divorce, severe illness, job loss, or the loss of a loved one
- Encourage you to adopt healthier lifestyle choices, like reducing excessive drinking and increasing physical activity
- Reduce your sense of loneliness
Furthermore, friends play a pivotal role in promoting your overall health. Adults with strong social ties experience a lowered risk of various health issues, such as depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI). In fact, studies reveal that older adults with meaningful relationships and social support tend to outlive their peers who have fewer connections.
Challenges in establishing and maintaining friendships
For many adults, forming new friendships or maintaining existing ones can be difficult. Friendships often take a backseat to other obligations like work, parenting, or caring for elderly parents. Personal growth or changing interests can lead to a gradual drift from friends we were once close to. Additionally, relocating to a new area can create barriers to meeting new people.
Building and preserving quality friendships requires effort, but the rewards they bring are immeasurable. We need to put in the time to sustain our true friendships, whether that is a regular phone call, messaging or – best of all – meeting up in person. Making a conscious commitment to sustain your true friendships is probably one of the most important things you can do. The act of real sharing with a true friends signals that you value the person, and this further strengthens the friendship bond.
When it comes to friendships, quality triumphs over quantity. While cultivating a diverse network of friends and acquaintances is valuable, you may experience a deeper sense of belonging and well-being by nurturing close, meaningful relationships that stand by you through thick and thin.
Cultivating your established friendships
Nurturing healthy friendships entails a reciprocal give-and-take. Sometimes, you provide support, while other times, you receive it. Demonstrating your care and appreciation for your friends is essential for strengthening your bonds. Being a good friend is just as crucial as having good friends.
To nurture your friendships, consider the following:
Practise kindness, the foundation of successful relationships. Think of your friendship as an emotional bank account, with acts of kindness and expressions of gratitude as deposits, and criticism and negativity as withdrawals.
Be a good listener. Show genuine interest in your friends’ lives by maintaining eye contact and using body language that conveys attentiveness. Offer empathetic support when they share their challenges, but refrain from giving unsolicited advice.
Open up about your own experiences to deepen the connection and build intimacy.
Demonstrate trustworthiness through reliability and responsibility. Keep your commitments, respect confidentiality and uphold your word.
Make yourself available by spending time together regularly and checking in between meetings.
Developing new friendships
While we often consider our true friends those we have known longest and have a shared history with, we can establish new friendships in our adult life. It is not easy, but you can start by looking at people already in your wider social network. You can work on create socialising opportunities with individuals you’ve interacted with, even briefly, who left a positive impression.
To make new friends and sustain existing relationships, you can:
- Stay connected with past colleagues or classmates
- Reconnect with old friends
- Reach out to individuals you’ve enjoyed conversing with at social gatherings
- Introduce yourself to neighbours
- Dedicate time to connect with family members
If someone stands out as someone you’d like to know better, don’t hesitate to reach out. Ask mutual acquaintances to facilitate an introduction via text, email or in person. Don’t feel uncomfortable at extending an invitation for coffee or lunch.
Meeting new people requires seeking out gatherings where others congregate. Diversify your strategies for meeting people to increase your chances of success. Persistence is key. Don’t passively wait for invitations; take the initiative and keep trying. It may take several attempts to ascertain if your interest in a potential friend is reciprocated.
You could consider doing the following:
- Attend community events or join groups centered around shared interests or hobbies
- Volunteer your time and skills within your community or with a local charity
- Accept invitations and extend your own
- Pursue new interests through courses or classes
- Engage with a faith community
- Strike up conversations while taking walks in your locality or in your local parks
Participating in online chat groups or communities can facilitate the formation and maintenance of connections, alleviating loneliness. However, research indicates that online interactions may not necessarily lead to expanded offline networks or closer in-person relationships. Additionally, exercise caution when sharing personal information or making plans with individuals you’ve only met online.
Remember, it’s never too late to establish new friendships or reconnect with old ones. Investing time in cultivating and fortifying friendships can result in improved health and a brighter outlook for years to come. It’s worth the effort, so make the effort to make the connection!