Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me.” This give-and-take is how most people categorize their friends, as those they can lean on in times of distress. Friends offer companionship, emotional and physical support, and in some cases financial assistance. But friends are more than an "extra." Because we've evolved to need friends, friendships can affect everything from our emotional well-being to our physical health, and it is critical that we nurture these relationships.
We Evolved to Need Friends
There’s a reason it feels like your best friend is your sister or brother. Friends may serve as a type of “functional kin," notes 2014 research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In our ancestral past, those who had friendship ties were more likely to survive. Today, we like to have friends stick up for us; but in our distant past, friendship was an even greater necessity in order to survive the attacks of rivals and predators. This may explain why having close social supports is comforting, whereas having fewer friends, and having conflicts with friends, leads to distress.
Friendships, Well-Being and Social Media
It is common knowledge that friendships make us feel better. Social support is a critical part of the human condition. But real life social networks lead to increases in well-being at higher rates than online social networks, according to research published in the Public Library of Science. Researchers have also found that online social networks have little value for married or partnered couples. Nurture the relationships you have in life, instead of focusing your time on social media, in order to reap the greatest benefits.
Friendships Take Work
People who work hard at maintaining their friendships tend to have higher levels of autonomy and increased happiness, notes 2011 research published in the Journal of Psychology. Autonomy — and feeling in control of your life and relationships — may lead to more happiness, especially paired with the social support that friendships provide. Taking the time to nurture friendships, through shared activities or communication about your life, is an essential part of keeping those you love close and maintaining friendship ties.
Friendships Affect Health
Aside from the day-to-day social support and happiness that friends can provide, friendships may also affect physical health many years later. Those who have more friendships in childhood may have better physical health in adulthood, notes one study published in 2012 in the European Journal of Public Health. This suggests that embracing friendships, early in life and later on, may have positive health effects in years to come.
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- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Friendship and Natural Selection
- Public Library of Science: Comparing the Happiness Effects of Real and On-Line Friends
- Journal of Psychology: Perceived Autonomy Support, Friendship Maintenance, and Happiness
- European Journal of Public Health: Childhood Friendships and Adult Health: Findings From the Aberdeen Children of the 1950s Cohort Study
- Amazon: My Other Ex: Women's True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends
Melody Causewell has been a writer in the mental health field since 2001. She written training manuals and clinical programs for mental health organizations. She has published feature articles "Leaven" magazine and has been published in "Natural Awakenings." She has a degree in psychology, a Masters degree in social work and is a La Leche League leader.
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