We are built to crave emotional connection to others. Friends are there to help us celebrate our wins and lift us up when we’re down. Learn what research says about exactly how our lives are enriched when we have good friends in our lives.
Humans are social creatures. No matter our age or station in life, most of us are highly motivated to connect with others.
If we are lucky, we are able to cultivate several types of attachments throughout our lifetime - with colleagues, with mentors, with family.
But enjoying close bonds with our “chosen family” - or friends - is scientifically shown to especially enrich our lives.
Unfortunately, with schools and workplaces shut down globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly strained our ability to maintain friendships for so many of us.
Thirty-six percent of all Americans, including 51% of mothers with young children and 61% of young adults, have experienced a deep sense of loneliness this past year.
Ironically, it is the profound satisfaction we get from our friends that can help us pull through tough times. So, as we finally look forward to a greater sense of normalcy, it is more important than ever to give it all we can to keep our social ties alive.
The health perks of having good friends
We know that having good friends and being a good friend simply makes us feel good.
Research from early 2021 sheds light on exactly how our friendships boost our health, and which groups of people seem to benefit the most.
Participants from 57 countries were asked to rate how important friends were in their lives, how healthy they perceived themselves to be, and how happy they felt overall.
Not surprisingly, those who valued their friends most highly reported greater happiness and well-being across cultures.
The researchers explained that friends provide us with a strong sense of companionship, critical emotional and practical support when we need it, less loneliness, and a higher sense of purpose and control over our lives.
Friends can also influence our health in positive ways. When you observe a friend getting fit and losing weight, you are way more apt to incorporate those healthy habits yourself.
Women, older adults, people who are highly educated, and people living in wealthier countries with less income inequality appear to value friendships the most and enjoy a greater sense of well-being.
Being a friend in the digital era
Want to find the best doctor in town for your sore knee, how to air fry your vegan, gluten-free, keto-friendly breakfast, or the ultimate trick for getting your toddler back on a nap schedule? There’s a virtual community for that.
Social media platforms have been an indispensable resource for the exchange of information and social support for Internet users all across the globe.
In an instant, we can connect with a tight knit village of people just like us who share our hobbies and interests, spiritual beliefs, aspirations, and challenges.
The more members identify with the others in the group, the more trust they experience, and the deeper the sense of companionship and support.
Sometimes, online friendships created within a virtual community even result in real-life friendships as well, moving off line and nurtured in person for an even deeper connection.
Why we need friends at work
If you work in an office, you know how important it is to have a solid comrade or two to make working life easier.
The most common - and also most important - friendships forged at work tend to be those between employees at the same professional rank or level.
Workplace friends help each other out by sharing important business-related information, helping to enhance creativity and decision-making, and provide vital support in times of stress.
Not only do the employees themselves benefit, but the organization they work for benefit as well. Employees who feel connected to others are more satisfied with their jobs and tend to stick around longer.
Research shows that people make friends at work for both individual and contextual reasons.
Individual factors include personal characteristics like personality and similarities between two people. In other words, people will naturally befriend those they genuinely like.
Contextual factors, on the other hand, relate to the organization itself, like physical proximity, shared projects, and work-related issues, that make it easier to kindle a new friendship.