Friends with Benefits

Recently, I asked a few girlfriends to assist me with a project I was working on, and they generously agreed. We communicated over the days leading up to the project day, and I answered all of their questions to make sure they were prepared. They’re all beautiful women, but as my friends arrived, one by one, to the project site, they each looked more radiant and beautiful than ever before. In that moment, I didn’t see their looks; I saw the spirit and nature of our friendship. My friends were holding up a mirror and showing me a reflection of who and what we are to one another.

There’s something to be said for friends who show up for us in our lives. Whether they bring joyous laughter to a girl’s night or their presence fills a need for deeper comfort, friendship is essential to our soul. The relationships we form as humans are vital to our mental and emotional well-being. A Brigham Young University study found that social relationships make a bigger impact on avoiding early death and improve chances of surviving illness and disease by fifty percent.

Social interactions have more impact on our health than the positive effects of taking blood pressure medication or the negative effects of being exposed to air pollution. “Not having a social support network can put you at a higher risk of death; more than obesity or leading a sedentary life without exercise,” said BYU psychologist Juliane Holt-Lunstad. The research proves a deep connection between our vitality and the people with whom we spend the majority of our time. So the question we should all be asking ourselves is this: Is my circle really giving me life?

If you are in my tribe of friends, we work out together, share book recommendations, and swap our latest Podcast addictions. Yet, there are many ways friends also influence our health for the worse, including making us fat. In a study conducted by Harvard Medical School, researchers found that if a participant’s friend became obese over the course of the study, the chances that the participant also became obese increased by 57 percent. Study co-author Nikolas Christakis said, “People come to think that it is okay to be bigger since those around them are bigger, and this sensibility spreads.”

My guess is that science has proved what we have all been casually saying since the beginning of time. Birds of a feather, flock together. We often look to those around us to hold us accountable to our dreams, goals, and aspirations. And behavior, whether good or bad, productive or unproductive, is contagious. Motivating and encouraging each other to live our best life should be a prerequisite for any friendship we seek to establish.

In our youth, having lots of friends is fun, but the quality, not the quantity, of our friendships will carry us through some of our most trying times as we get older. A study published in Psychology and Aging found that, when it comes to laying the groundwork for our future wellbeing, we have different social needs at different ages. While having more social interactions in our 20s can lead to better mental health outcomes, like less depression and anxiety, by middle age the formula changes. Once we enter our 30s, it’s more beneficial to cultivate higher quality friendships.

Let’s be real. As we get older, our friends are the people who become godparents to our children, come to our rescue when we’re faced with aging or ill parents, and help console or comfort us when we suffer through the trauma of divorce or other losses. Quality friends make us stronger and give us permission to breathe deep. The people we spend the majority of our time with have a huge impact on our health and livelihood. Friends who prove themselves to be assets in our lives transform us, uplift us, and inspire us to tackle our goals and live up to our highest potential.

And those liability friends leave us depleted. They prove dangerous to our physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. The more we focus on creating healthy relationships with friends who force us to show up as the best version of ourselves, the greater assets we can be, not only to ourselves and each other, but to the world. Our friends are a reflection of us, and our longevity is deeply connected to theirs.

When you choose wisely and invest in cultivating relationships with the right people, friendship clearly has its benefits for all involved. Spend time with people who tell you the truth, lift you higher, and hold you accountable. As you go forward, choose your friends as though your life depends on it—because it does.

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