A study done by Harvard analyzed dozens of variables over a long-term study of people of all ages to determine which variables have the greatest impact on people’s overall happiness. As it turns out, the number one variable that creates the most happiness in people’s lives are friendships. If you are looking for more happiness in your life, a great investment will be in building strong and lasting friendships. In this two part article, we are going to discuss a number of surprising benefits that come with having friends and how many friends you actually need. In part two we will discuss how to best choose your friends, and how to nurture and maintain friendships.

Benefits of Friendships

Human beings are a naturally social species which comes with all sorts of benefits. Friendships help prevent loneliness, create a sense of belonging and help with our sense of identity, self-worth, and friends often function as a source of support. We use them as sounding boards to vent about stressors, bounce around ideas and brainstorm solutions, and possibly help you tackle tasks and projects.

One of the great benefits of friends is having people to hang out with, have fun with, joke, laugh, and build memories with. Our friends make us smile and accept us for who we are and allow us to be ourselves. Good friends help us build confidence, give our lives purpose, and provide companionship.

On the other side of acceptance, friends also provide us with accountability and push us to grow. They might challenge us to be healthier, exercise together, or catch our bad habits like smoking or drinking. Friends try to steer us in the right direction, provide constructive criticism, coach us, and cheer us on.

Lastly, friendships have been proven to improve our physical wellbeing. Those with close friends are at less risk for illness and diseases. People with close friends have less depression, lower blood pressure and a better body mass index. Studies have also found that those with a quality social life tend to live longer that peers with fewer connections. With this laundry list of physical, mental, and emotional benefits that come from having friendships, it is hard to argue the importance of good friends in our lives.

How Many Friends is Adequate?

So, if there are so many benefits to having friends, how many do you actually need to reap these benefits? For many people their first thought is: “the more, the merrier”. For others, this sounds like an undertaking that will require effort to achieve. Of course, we are referring to the spectrum of introversion and extroversion. For those leaning on the extroverted end of the continuum this will be a labor of love. Extroverts thrive on social interaction, find it highly enjoyable, rejuvenating, and tend to have a high number of friendships, albeit somewhat more superficial by comparison. It would seem our introverts are at higher risk of not meeting some arbitrary quota of friendship to order to gain the benefits. Introverts tend to prefer one on one or small group encounters and tend to have fewer friends overall, however, they tend to be deeper than those of extroverts. Well, the introverts can take a sigh of relief to know that it boils down to quality over quantity. Research shows that sustaining even just a few close friendships still provides the tremendous benefits that come along with having friends detailed above.

Along with the concept of quality of friendships, it is important to be mindful of two critical ingredients to such friendships: safety and trust. Safety refers to the extent to which you feel safe with a person mentally, emotionally, and physically. Obviously, we want to surround ourselves with people who are kind, caring, and supportive rather than those who are judgmental, belittling, or demeaning. Similarly, we want to find people who are honest, trustworthy, and dependable, not those who lie, cheat, and are unreliable. Friendships that are not safe and trustworthy may still provide a connection and sense of belonging but are not as likely to yield the majority of the benefits discussed above. Make it your mission to construct friendships and a support system that you can count on and lean on. It is your job to make sure you protect yourself. Do that by selecting healthy and positive friends.

If you are interested in talking with one of our therapists about how to improve your social experiences and create more happiness, please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.

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