Six ways your friends make you happier and healthier

July 28, 2020

Friendships are one of the most rewarding and effective ways we can boost our mental health. And in Australia now more than ever, we could all benefit from a little help from our friends. In a recent nationwide survey conducted by the Australian Psychological Society, 50.5 per cent of Australians reported feeling lonely for at least one day in a week, while nearly 55 per cent of the population said they lack companionship. 

Social relationships are crucial to our health and well-being, lifting us up when we’re down and celebrating with us when we’ve had a win. In honour of International Friendship Day (Thursday 30 July), we’ve put together six important reasons to cherish your nearest and dearest.

1. Friends help you to de-stress

The research is in …  Sharing really is caring. One study found that the presence of a best friend can effectively act as a buffer against negative experiences and even help regulate your cortisol levels. A few good friends can give you a dependable social circle with which to work through life’s problems and be a shoulder to cry on when things get tough. Friends can also protect you against the feelings of isolation that often accompany periods of intense stress. So whether it’s a running buddy, a workmate, or simply someone to vent to over a bottle of wine, having a few friends around can help you de-stress and unwind. 

2. Laughter is the best medicine

Friends make us laugh and the science is clear … Laughter is good for us. Laughter lifts your mood, burns calories, relaxes your whole body, helps reduce tension and stress, and may even boost your immune system. Plus, a good fit of the giggles releases a hit of feel-good endorphins, which in turn promotes an overall sense of wellbeing and can even temporarily ease pain.

3. Friends keep your mind sharp

As if you needed another reason to phone your friend, research has found that keeping a few mates around has cognitive benefits too. A 10-minute conversation on a social topic can engage your executive function group of mental skills, working your memory, flexible thinking, inhibitory control, and more. Even just basic getting-to-know-you conversations with a new acquaintance can get your brain in gear.

4. A supportive friendship group can give you an ego boost

A supportive social circle of quality friends can do wonders for your self-confidence and sense of self-worth. Research shows that no matter your age or gender, positive social relationships, social acceptance, and social support help to develop, build, and shape our sense of self. Plus, by their very nature, friendships promote connection and closeness with others, nurturing us and helping us feel safe and comfortable when our self-esteem is injured.

5. Friendships increase your sense of belonging and purpose

A sense of belonging is an important human need. It helps you see value in life, strengthens your ability to empathise and relate with others, and provides a crucial coping mechanism when things get tough. The good news is that connecting with even just one or two friends can help you find that sense of belonging. So the next time you get together with your friends, make an effort to bond over your shared memories, experiences, hobbies, or values.

6. Friends help you live longer

Research has found that meaningful friendships can affect your health even more than family. The 2005 Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging revealed that while close relationships with children and other relatives had very little impact on how long we live, our friendships definitely did. In fact, people with the largest friendship circles tended to outlive those with the fewest friends by 22 per cent. A second clinical review also found that people with strong social ties had a 50 per cent better chance of survival than those with weaker social ties, regardless of their health status, age, or sex. Now that’s worth keeping your friends around for.

Image credit: @priscilladupreez on Unsplash

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