Friends and friendship – the best medicine!

I don’t think anyone would argue that friends and friendship aren’t important.  They feed our soul and fill our heart.

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines friendship, as “the state of being friends” and defines a friend as “a person who has a strong liking for and trust in another.”

Philosophers have been debating the meaning of and need for friends and friendship for centuries.  Aristotle, circa 350 BC, mused that friendship is a necessity for happiness.  More recently friendship has been described as a voluntary social relationship.

I disagree with the idea that friendship is voluntary.  Whom you choose as a friend may be voluntary (unlike your family) but having friends is essential to our health and well-being.  We survived as a species by belonging to a tribe.  We were able to rise to the top of the food chain in a hostile eat-or-be-eaten environment because we learned to cooperate.  The need to belong, that crucial relationship that extends beyond the family unit, was selected for over the millenia.  It’s in our DNA.

And that need to belong is powerful.  Our choice of friends influences everything and is of paramount importance developmentally.  As a child our family is the center of our world. But as we progress through the teenage years, our peers replace our family on the priority list.  Friends are everything to a teenager.  It’s why we did stupid stuff to fit in as a teenagers.  And if we were somehow ostracized, we were scarred for life.

As adults our friends have a tremendous impact on our lives and our habits.  If we exercise, if we smoke, if we are a non-drinker, social drinker or over drinker, if we over eat or under eat, even what we eat is influenced by our social circles.  Our friends influence our dreams and aspirations.  We become who we are, largely because of our friends and friendships.

Furthermore, friendship has been identified as one of the most important predictors of longevity.  Social isolation is known to be detrimental to our health.  It’s worse than smoking!  Seniors with longstanding friendships live longer, laugh more frequently and have a higher quality of life with than those living in isolation.

Think about it.  It is so much easier to keep a commitment with a friend than to ourselves.  Why is that?  The power of friendship.  I can attest to this power.  Myself and a friend committed to meet weekly to hike along the Bruce Trail, an 894 km footpath in Ontario that stretches from Queenston along the Niagara Escarpment up to Tobermory.  We have yet to miss a week. Though both of us admitted, this past week, neither of us would have braved the chilly rain and headed out before dawn on our own.  Both of us would have hit snooze and rolled over enjoying the warmth under the comforter, except for the power of friendship.

Yet, despite the importance of friends and friendship on our well-being, the ability to make friends and maintain friendships is often taken for granted.  And for many adults, trying to strike a balance between the demands of career and family, friends and friendships trickle down the priority list and fade unnoticed.  And sadly, the art of building friendship is withering in the shadow of social media.  We collect friends on social media like we used to collect rocks or trinkets and it’s not healthy.

Right alongside laughter, friends and friendships just might be the best medicine we could ever need!  Building friendships is not a luxury.  Friends are not optional.  Both are essential and need to be tended and nurtured as if our life depended on it.  Because it does.

Have a wonderful week my friends,