International Day of Friendship
Our disconnection seems to be the scourge of modern life; in recent years we’ve seen an explosion of self-help, personal development and spiritual enlightenment books, websites and on-line communities seeking to guide us towards a sense of connection, purpose, fulfilment, peace and happiness.
Tuesday 30th July is the UN International Day of Friendship, adopted in 2011 to promote the “relevance and importance of friendship as a noble and valuable sentiment in the lives of human beings around the world.”
We need other people to be healthy and happy, it’s a fact.
Whether we’re in a conventional or non-conventional ‘family’, have a partner or are single – socialising with friends, belonging to a club or interest group, volunteering to ‘give back’ we need connection in some form. Indeed, social connection matters throughout life: singletons at every age have poorer health outcomes than do those who nurture supportive relationships and isolated elderly people don’t live as happily, as healthily, or as long as those with strong family or social connections.
So, building our ‘tribe’ – whatever that looks like for each of us – is important, healthful and unsurprisingly, it’s enjoyable!
The UN says that “friendship between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals can inspire peace efforts and presents an opportunity to build bridges between communities, honouring cultural diversity.”
Yet, all around wars are raging across the world, we’re witnessing the rise of the far right and Nationalism in modern politics and we look on as an ever-increasing gap between rich and poor around the world increases year after year.
It feels as if we’re becoming more disconnected and isolationist. Societies everywhere are increasingly fractured by growing divisions between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, which, together with increasing tensions between faiths, has seen record levels of gun crime in the United States and a significant rise in knife crime in the UK.
In The Power of Vulnerability, Brene Brown says: “Connection is what gives purpose and meaning to life…neurobiologically, it’s how we’re wired. But people’s stories are about disconnection.”
It’s a bad business and friendship, it seems, is becoming the last thing on people’s minds.
Yet, centuries ago, Aristotle wrote:
“In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. They keep the young out of mischief; they comfort and aid the old in their weakness, and they incite those in the prime of life to noble deeds.”
Then, much later, Carole King wrote the song You Got a Friend:
“Keep your head together
And call my name out loud
Soon you'll hear me knocking at your door.”
So, the concept of friendship is enduring. We tend to forget that we are hard-wired to connect with other people and are profoundly shaped by our social environment. We suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed. Friends can bolster against loneliness, decrease anxiety, and improve our physical health.
It’s how much, not how many
When it comes to establishing a friendship, the quality of time spent together is much more important than the quantity. It’s not necessary to form a large network of friends; sustaining just a few close friendships can provide tremendous benefits.
Close friendships can:
- increase our sense of belonging, purpose and meaning
- boost our happiness and mental health
- improve our self-confidence and self-worth
- strengthen our immune system and reduce our blood pressure and stress response
- help us cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one
- encourage us to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise
- reduce obesity, depression and anxiety
- help us to avoid chronic diseases
- help us to live longer
But making friends isn’t always easy and keeping up friendships is often harder still. Life gets in the way… so we need to work at it.
When we make the time and put in the effort, the rewards are so worth the investment: nurturing friendships is an important part of our self-care and a pathway to better health, happiness and well-being in adult life.
What’s your idea of a true friend? Most of us would agree that a real friend is someone who:
- we can trust
- won’t judge us
- won’t deliberately hurt our feelings, but will show kindness and respect
- will love us not because they feel they have to, but because they choose to
- is loyal and dependable
- whose company we enjoy and who makes us smile
- is not afraid to tell us the truth (kindly) no matter how hard it might be
- can laugh when we laugh and will cry with us
- will be there no matter what
- accepts us for who we are
"When a woman becomes her own best friend, life is easier."
- Diane von Furstenburg
Be your own best friend
Perhaps the key to friendship is to be a better friend yourself - be the friend to yourself that you would like to have. Imagine a younger version of yourself – how would you treat that self? Would you be reliable, supportive, kind, thoughtful, trustworthy, and willing to share yourself and your time?
It works both ways
Would you be prepared to listen to and support friends just as you want them to listen to and support you? But give your friends space: don’t be too clingy or needy. Everyone needs space to be alone or spend time with other people as well.
We may see our friends every day, a couple of times a month, or perhaps less often. They may come and go, but friends make you laugh (and, sometimes, cry) but above all, they will love you for who you are, and vice-versa.
Top tips for good friendships
Don’t have too many rules and expectations. Instead, allow your friendships to evolve naturally. We’re all unique individuals, so your friendships probably won’t develop exactly as you expect.
Be patient, good friendships take time to establish… so go easy – but keep at it.
No one is perfect and every friend will make mistakes so be forgiving. When there’s a bump in the road, try to find a way to overcome the problem and move on. It will often deepen the bond between you. And be ready to be the first to say “sorry”.
Grow with, not away from, friends: the nature of our friendships will change over time, and we must change with it.
But choose wisely… surround yourself with people who lift you up, not bring you down. Be ready to relinquish relationships that don’t serve and support your well-being:
“He who walks with the lame, learns how to limp”
– Latin proverb
Make time to give yourself the gift of self-love so you can become the friend you would like to have. Recognising yourself as your own best friend allows us the opportunity to recognise, nurture and express the love that’s inside of us – our own, private self-love and to learn to love ourselves exactly as we are – beautiful!
Ensuring our own holistic wellbeing is about paying attention to how key elements of our external environment (and the inextricable connections between them) impact on this process, to either support – or undermine – our whole health.
Leave ego at the door
Ultimately, though, creating lasting friendship comes down to an absence of pride and the ability to remain humble and recognise the fallibility of our fellow humans. Too many friendships flounder on stubbornness and the determination to hold on to offence, blame and grudges. But, underneath, we’re ALL the same.
"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one."
- C.S. Lewis