Lifestyle and Living

Relationships: How Friendships are the Key to Happiness

Feb 2023 | By Anne Bokma

Friends are key to our health and happiness. And it’s never too late to make new ones — or connect with old ones.

Having good friends is one of the greatest joys in life. We need others to laugh and lament with and we crave the energizing connections that allow us to share our inner lives and feel less alone when life gets tough. “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light,” said Helen Keller, the American author and disability rights activist.

For women especially, their very survival depends on solid friendships with other women. Study after study has proven that strong social connections are just as important to overall quality of life as choosing not to smoke, eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep. Researchers have found that people who have satisfying relationships with others are happier, better adjusted, have fewer health problems and even live longer.

On the other hand, weak social ties are linked to higher rates of depression, later-in-life cognitive decline, and increased mortality. A study reported by Harvard Health, which examined data from more than 300,000 people, found that lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50% — the equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Do You Have Enough Friends?

Surveys show that most people have between three and five close friends, although about 50 percent have three or fewer close friends and 12 percent have no close friends.

Two mature ladies running and talking together.There’s no “right” number of friends to have — some people have higher social needs and need a larger number of friends to feel content, while others who value their alone time may be happy with fewer friends. But we all need friends who provide companionship and understanding, and for whom we can offer the same.

Our social media feeds make it easier than ever to connect with hundreds of “friends.” But while our Facebook friends are multiplying, our “real life” friends are dwindling as we live in a time of increased isolation. The global pandemic has deepened an epidemic of loneliness.  A recent Harvard study reveals that 36% of Americans feel “serious loneliness” while Statistics Canada reports about 45 percent of Canadians are often, always or sometimes lonely.

6 Tips for Expanding your Friendships

  • Don’t be afraid to make the first move: Take the initiative and reach out to a long-lost friend or invite a new neighbour out for coffee. Finding friends is a lot like dating — you have to take a chance and put yourself out there.
  • Join a group, any group: Whether it’s a fitness class, book club, community centre program or religious community, gathering with other like-minded people is a sure way to create a consistent routine that will result in building a natural rapport – and perhaps eventual friendship.
  • Be willing to open up: The best friendships are based on shared vulnerability, a willingness to be open about our inner thoughts and feelings. When we are able to do this, it gives others the permission to do the same.
  • Check in with old friendsLost touch with your university roommate? Wonder whatever happened to that childhood friend? Look them up and reach out. You never know, they just might be wondering whatever happened to you, too.
  • Use social media to your advantage: Curious about a friend of a friend on social media? Respond to something they’ve posted and get a dialogue going. Eventually you can drop them a line to start a private conservation that might lead to meeting up “in real life.”
  • Get a part-time job: If you’re lonely and retired, going back to work. Even if it’s part-time and pays less than what you might be used to, a work environment can provide an important social outlet that brings you into contact with colleagues that may become friends.

Making friends requires a deliberate effort but it’s a sure ticket to greater happiness, improved health and maybe even a longer life.

A picture of three ladies together and smiling for the camera.