A close friend and I meet for an early morning walk every Sunday morning. Exercise is secondary to spending time together. As we make our way down the sidewalks of the town where we both grew up, I sometimes imagine us as two little girls with matching brunette ponytails and hair bows walking to school together more than fifty years ago. We’ve been friends our entire lives.
Together we’ve experienced birthday parties, sleepovers, boyfriends, homework, graduations, weddings, new homes, children, grandchildren, aging parents, and a few things we’d never admit. I recently gave her a little sign that said, “We’ll always be friends. You know too much!”
Research has long shown friendship is an important factor in well-being. Loneliness and social isolation can increase risk of health conditions like depression, anxiety, heart disease, and stroke. A 2010 study at Brigham Young University concluded loneliness is as harmful to physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Being in a true friendship gives us the opportunity to practice elegant social behaviors. Friendship requires us to be loyal, thoughtful, vulnerable, forgiving, and unselfish. A good friend shares life’s joys and sorrows and helps us become our best selves.
Friends can be people we’ve known forever or just recently met. We can make new friends anywhere there are people – work, museums, gyms, libraries, clubs, churches, parks, and classes. I have a wonderful new friend with whom I share many interests. Shortly after meeting her, she reminded me of that old Girl Scout song, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”
We don’t have to be the same age as our friends. Some of my closest friends are over eighty. I value their experience and their wisdom. They’re fun to hang out with, and they inspire me to stay physically and mentally active. On the other hand, I have friends half my age who try their best to keep me young and hip.
Sometimes we’re lucky enough to be related to our friends. Parents, children, siblings, and extended family members can offer a unique form of friendship and support. I’m personally blessed to be married to my best friend. Of course, we can’t forget our four-legged friends for unmatched loyalty and companionship.
As much as I love being with friends, I enjoy my own company, too. I think we each instinctually know our best balance of time spent in the company of others and time spent in solitude. It’s true if you make friends with yourself, you will never be alone. We must learn to treat ourselves well, speak kindly to ourselves, and lift ourselves up as we would a close friend.
Joan Walsh Anglund wrote and illustrated a charming children’s book in 1958 wonderfully titled, A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You. That’s really all a friend needs to do. Like us. Care for us. Have our back. And remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” §
“A good friend is like a four-leaf clover, hard to find and lucky to have.”
Featured Art ~ Childhood Idyll, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1900