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Researchers and philosophers have explored in great detail the emotional dramas of love and family. A similar thing happens in our own lives, writes science journalist Lydia Denworth. In fact, research suggests that friendships can help us find purpose and meaning, stay healthy, and live longer.
The intimacy, support, equality, and emotional bonds we have in our friendships are unique. But when kids go to school, they start to have deeper friendships that involve, first, doing things together, and then a deeper, shared emotional element. Then in adolescence, it becomes even more abstract and relational. All the way through high school and college, friendships can feel easy because you are thrown into an environment where you have lots of same-age peers and the pool of potential friends is big. You are really hyper-interested in social activity. Then in adulthood, as people start to have jobs and maybe get married or have a family, it can become harder to spend time with your friends.
Toward the end of life, we tend to come back around to having a little bit more time once kids are grown and careers and jobs are less demanding.
KN: You observe in your book that we tend to neglect our friendships when we get busy, more so than other relationships. Can you say more about that? But we also feel that spending time with friends, instead of working, is indulgent.
If you are forever canceling on your friends or failing to make a point of seeing them or talking to them or interacting with them, then you are not being a good friend and you are not maintaining a strong relationship. You need your friends to be there down the road. LD: Just like a strong relationship is good for you, a negative relationship is bad for you. Even an ambivalent relationship is bad for you, it turns out, biologically. An ambivalent relationship is a relationship where you have positive feelings and negative feelings about the person or about your interactions with them.
Researchers had a scale of one to five: How positive does this relationship make you feel, and how negative does this relationship make you feel? Anybody who was two or above on both things counted as ambivalent, which is really broad. You could be five on the good and two on the bad.
What was interesting was that any relationship that was categorized as ambivalent seemed to generate cardiovascular issues and other kinds of health problems. But I think that the problem with ambivalent relationships, which a lot of us have many of, is more surprising.
I think that all this is a reminder of the importance of working on relationships—all of them, but including your friendships. One is you can try to make it better, work on it, have a hard conversation, perhaps. And three would be that you shuffle that friend to the outer circles of your social life.
KN: Are there some practices you would suggest or steps that you take in your own life to put more time and energy into friendship? LD: It really does just begin as simply as paying attention and prioritizing. I try regularly to plan to get together with my close friends and the people I care about seeing a lot. We all have relatively busy lives, but I, first of all, make an effort to make the plan, and then I make an effort to get there—to show up. I think showing up is a really critical piece of friendship, in every sense of the phrase. Am I contributing to that? Have I been helpful lately?
When was the last time I said something nice or told somebody why I appreciated them or did something nice for someone? You can think about the way you interact with your friends as needing to fall into those buckets, at a minimum. People have been stressed and anxious lately, so we need to be there and provide an Need a good friend and more to listen, a shoulder to cry on, even virtually.
That said, people are reporting a lot of positive experiences, even remotely. Limited though it is, technology has been a lifesaver in this moment. LD: That they will make friendship a priority, that they will call a friend and work harder on thinking about the importance of being a good friend, that parents will think about talking to kids about the importance of friendship and modeling being a good friend and prioritizing it.
Through all our lives, the importance of friendship has been hiding in plain sight. Kira M. Newman is the managing editor of Greater Good. Follow her on Twitter! Become a subscribing member today. Scroll To Top Researchers and philosophers have explored in great detail the emotional dramas of love and family.
Lydia Denworth. Norton,s.
Get the science of a meaningful life delivered to your inbox. About the Author Follow. Newman Kira M. By Kira M. By Juliana Breines March 11, This article — and everything on this site — is funded by readers like you. Give Now.Need a good friend and more
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