Did you know that friends are absolutely essential for your health and well-being?
Any amount of increase in our social isolation is bad news, because friendship isn’t just about fun, fellowship and emotional health. Having friends can improve physical health, too.
It’s not just that social connections are good for us. It’s that loneliness is fatal. People who are more socially connected are happier, healthier, and live longer than people who are less well- connected. Lonely people tend to experience a decline in their health earlier in midlife, their brain functioning degenerates sooner, and they live shorter lives.
Today, one in five Americans reports feeling lonely. This is an unprecedented epidemic of social isolation, one that has been decades in the making. When television worked its way into practically every home, social capital began to decline. Fewer people connected to their communities, joined clubs, went to church, or volunteered. “They simply stayed home and had passive experiences,” says Waldinger.
The Harvard Study found a strong association between happiness and close relationships like spouses, family, friends, and social circles. “Personal connection creates mental and emotional stimulation, which are automatic mood boosters, while isolation is a mood buster,” says Dr. Waldinger. This is also an opportunity to focus on positive relationships and let go of negative people in your life, or at least minimize your interactions with them.
People who have strong social relationships are less likely to die prematurely than people who are isolated. In fact, according to a 2010 review of research, the effect of social ties on life span is twice as strong as that of exercising, and equivalent to that of quitting smoking. When put like that, it can feel like a great deal of pressure is being put on you to get out there and mingle.
You can widen your social circle and amp up those feel-good endorphins in four easy steps!
- Make Friends at Work. Since you already spend more time with your coworkers than you do anyone else, why not try to forge some friendships with some of your colleagues? Having friends at work can lower stress and make it easier to move through the day. Many times you’ll find you truly enjoy their company outside of the office, too!
- Reconnect with Old Friends. We all have those friends that we think about often, but don’t talk to anymore. Life gets busy and paths diverge. It doesn’t mean you can’t reach out to them and reestablish your friendships. The beauty of this is that they will often introduce you to their new circle, broadening your social network all that much further!
- Find People with Common Interests. If you’re living in a new community or town, you may not know where to start in order to make new friends. Joining or starting a group of people with like interests can be a great way to build a social circle. Even better, that you’ll have plenty to talk about — even if it is highly focused on one topic.
- Eavesdrop. No, not in the sneaky, underhanded way. However, the next time you find yourself at a party or out and about, don’t be shy to strike up a conversation with someone you can relate to. Often times people love to be able to share experiences with others that have “been there, done that.” It’s a great way to break the ice, as long as you’re not hovering awkwardly on the outside.
Developing and maintaining good friendships takes effort. The enjoyment and comfort friendship can provide, however, makes the investment worthwhile.