We do much more than, ‘Get by with a little help from our friends,’ as sung by the world-famous Beatles and Joe Cocker. In the spirit of gratitude for friendship, here are four scientifically proven ways these social bonds positively impact our health and happiness.
1. Squash stress levels. Spending time with friends can help decrease your feelings of anxiety and levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, according to a 2011 study. This is particularly important given that 50% of Americans have experienced stressful events in the past year.
2. Boost your mood. In addition to minimizing stress levels, your social relationships can positively impact your overall mood. This benefit is based on research that showed making new friends can lift your spirits as oxytocin is released in your body. If you only have a few friends you can count on to cheer you up, consider taking an interest in others to establish new friendships. Dale Carnegie said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
3. Combat health issues. The old Swedish proverb, ‘Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow,’ underscores how important friendships are when we’re faced with health ailments big and small. Naturally, having a friend by our side makes tough challenges seem smaller. In fact, research has shown that strong social support systems have a positive effect when someone is battling a disease; can cut risks for dementia; and can even alleviate depression.
When my best friend was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 36, I was grateful to know she was surrounded by a family of physicians to support her through (what would be) two years of chemotherapy treatments—but wanted to do something too. I wrote a motivational quote, many by Dale Carnegie, at the top of every page of a journal I bought her, and implored her to write about her battle daily. Today, she is in remission and almost back to her wonder-woman self. She said that the quotes truly inspired her, and that over time, the journal became a source of strength because she could look back at moments when she felt weak, yet rebounded consistently which gave her hope and courage to continue fighting. Indeed, sometimes ‘halving’ one’s sorrow is the greatest gift we can give a friend.
4. Lengthen your life span. You can already feel how your friends have a positive, immediate impact on your life, but science says these friendships can also help us physically and mentally in the future. According to a 2010 review of research, the effect of friendships on life span is twice as strong as that of exercising, and equivalent to that of quitting smoking! Bonus—strong friendships help us dodge loneliness later in life during the ‘golden years.’ Indeed it’s important to be thankful for your besties.