4 reasons for friendship making you healthier and happier

Published: 17/01/2024

Friendships are truly a big part of our lives. They can certainly confuse us, challenge us and sometimes even make us question what relationships are really all about. But, at the end of the day, friendships are as crucial to us as our wellbeing. So, what is it really that makes friendships so important?

1. Friendship encourages healthy habits

One of the most significant benefits of friendship is how it can play a vital role in maintaining healthy habits. Having solid friendships in our lives can help us make better lifestyle choices that keep us strong – mentally but also even physically.
In his book “Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without”, Tom Rath, alongside several leading researchers, undertook a massive study of friendship concluding that you are five times more likely to eat healthier foods if you have friends who make smart dietary choices, too.
Another study published in the Journal of Social Sciences found that participants gravitate towards the exercise behaviours of those around them – you’re much more likely to exercise if your friends do too.
Journalist Kate Leaver knows how crucial friendship is for maintaining a healthy life – she believes that friendship is the essential cure for anxiety and ill-health and wrote a best-seller on the topic, “The Friendship Cure”.
“If we are an amalgamation of, say, the closest five people in our lives, it makes sense that we would emulate their habits,” she tells us. “This works both ways – we tend to get in on our friends’ healthy habits as well as their less healthy ones. That’s why things like diets can be so contagious – people so often feel like they want to copy the lifestyle choices of the people around them.”

2. Friendship can literally save lives

When our need for social relationships is not met, we fall apart mentally and even physically. It increasingly appears to be the cause of a range of medical problems, some of which take decades to show up, according to Psychologist John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago who has been tracking the effects of loneliness. Friendship can be the antidote to these very real ailments.
”Loneliness increases the level of cortisol (the stress hormone) in our blood, which makes us more susceptible to all sorts of health problems, including anxiety, depression and insomnia,” confirms Leaver. “Feeling excluded and lonely puts us in a state of fight or flight, which is essentially survival mode and can be really distressing.
“Friendship, conversely, can encourage the production of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin – all those friendly, warm, comforting hormones that support our mental health. Things like physical affection, eye contact, talking, hugging, laughing, dancing, drinking and even gossiping together are hugely bonding for human beings and all those things can absolutely help us stay happy, resilient, calm, and confident.”
But it doesn’t end there: there is evidence that friendship protects from real physical ailments as well. We have long suspected it helps our heart figuratively, but there’s actually some convincing evidence that it helps our cardiovascular health as well. In fact, Oxford University researchers found that friendship is a better pain killer than morphine!

3. Friendship makes you happier in old age

Friendship is something you never outgrow. And believe it or not, the years friendship adds on to life can be happier ones if spent with friends. Older adults who are socially active and prioritise social goals have higher levels of late-life satisfaction, according to Medical News Today. And interestingly, the same levels of satisfaction weren’t attributed to family ‘goals’ – likely because being socially active within your family circle generally requires less physical and mental effort than it does with friends – in a good way!

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4. Friendship helps us reflect

In many situations friendship teaches us a lot about ourselves, often help us push ourselves out of our comfort zones while still providing a safe emotional space for us to be totally ourselves. “We know that friendship has many benefits, particularly in boosting our mental and physical health, but I’d say the most salient reason social connection is so important is really because it helps us work out who we are and who we want to be,” says Leaver.
"Good, close friends make us feel as though we belong (as do our neighbours, colleagues and more casual mates) and I cannot overestimate how vital that sense of community is for our sense of self and identity and sanity and confidence and wellbeing.”
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