Friendships Can Boost Your Happiness

It doesn’t take long in childhood to learn the importance of friendships, especially if you have no siblings. Even if you have siblings, you may squabble with them or grow tired of playing with them. The problem with siblings is that they’re always around, helping themselves to all the good stuff, finishing the Oreo cookies before you’ve had a chance to hide them.

Friends, on the other hand, are never around long enough. They may come to your home for a few hours at a time and you may go to theirs. If they’re school friends, you may see them every day in class, eat lunch with them, and call them when you get home, sharing all the school gossip, such as who has a secret crush on whom, who was caught smoking in the restroom, and who has done poorly in every test but Covid.

In your college years (or young adult years), your friendships are much deeper. You may share an apartment with your friends, share the electric and water bills, share tales of dates gone bad. I remember those good old days, when my friends and I shared utilities as well as futilities.

During this period, you begin to appreciate all the benefits of friendships, including these:

1. Companionship. Friends give you company, ensuring that you don’t have to chat much with your cactus plant or your cat. (The cat sits beside the cactus on the window ledge and gives it advice on being more prickly.) Friends share food and drinks with you, watch movies and sports with you, even take walks with you and listen to all your dreams, making you believe that they’re not farfetched. Even the one about beating Serena at tennis one day may come true as soon as she turns 90 and needs a walking stick.

2. Assistance. Friends can help you with all sorts of practical things. Do you need help moving a heavy sofa? Call a friend. Do you need someone to water your plants while you’re on vacation? Call a friend. Do you need a ride to the airport? Call an Uber. But seriously, a true friend will do almost anything for you, even drive you to the airport without complaining about the price of gas. (Scowling at Tesla drivers doesn’t count.)

3. Encouragement. When you’ve suffered a loss or disappointment, a friend will console you and give you a shoulder to cry on. A friend will encourage you and give you a fresh perspective. They’ll tell you that you didn’t fail the exam—the exam failed you. It must have been a flawed exam, poorly worded or unfairly biased against people who don’t like to study.

Research has shown that people with many friends are not just happier, but they’re also healthier. But despite all these benefits, many of us do not make friendships a priority. I’m certainly guilty of this. I made lots of friends in my younger years, but over the last decade or so, I’ve developed only a few deep friendships—and most of these friends have four legs and a tail.

I’ve been thinking about friendships after reading a recent New York Times article by Catherine Pearson entitled “How Many Friends Do You Really Need?”

Pearson cites a 1993 study that led British anthropologist Robin Dunbar to conclude that humans can have meaningful friendships with only 150 people at most. A meaningful friendship, apparently, is one in which you won’t feel awkward greeting your friend if you run into them in a public place. By that standard, I have no more than about 30 friends—the two-legged kind. But as for close friendships, the number is far fewer, and I’m embarrassed to count. Does my next-door neighbor qualify as a “close” friend? We never watch movies together, but if I peer out of my kitchen window, I can see what’s on his TV.

Thankfully, Pearson refers to other research that indicates that three to six close friendships may be ideal. According to Professor Jeffrey Hall of the University of Kansas, it takes about 200 hours to develop a close friendship.

I certainly spent more than 200 hours with my college friends, but I’ve lost touch with several of them since then. I could give all sorts of excuses, but the truth is this: I haven’t made friendships a priority. I haven’t done enough texting, calling or visiting.

Maintaining friendships takes effort, and I’ve been a little too lackadaisical about it. But not anymore. I’m going to start reaching out to them, telling them how much they mean to me.

I sure hope they remember me.

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