When someone asked author Ethan Mordden how he could live without a family, he responded that his friends were his family. But that person didn’t understand his answer: “He said no – a family like playing with them and learning from each other and living with them inseparably, and I said that’s what we do. And finally he sort of got it, that my family is my buddies.” And like a healthy family, friends help us through difficult times, know us inside and out, and treat us honestly, directly, and compassionately.
When you’re an adult, friends become an essential part of your life. Many of us grew up with a group of people who were ”family” in name only. Others of us lost many of our family members once we grew older. As a result, we create families of choice, developing intimate and long-lasting groups of support. Caring friends are critical to your physical well-being as well as your emotional health.
Many studies have shown that there is a link between having strong social support and increased immunity! Good friendships literally ward off illness. Having a circle of friends enhances your emotional health by increasing confidence and improving self-esteem. Watch small children at play some time with this thought in mind: a child’s play is like work to an adult.
Likewise, you are also “working” when you are at play with your friends. You work to feel acceptable to others, to feel approved and to be acknowledged. You also make time to enjoy yourself, to relax, and to indulge in the good feelings of being around others.
As important, friendships give you a sense of belonging. Perhaps you had a history of of feeling ‘different,’ of not being a part of the group, of “being picked last on the team.” These make it even more critical to feel accepted by others. Having friends increases feelings of self-worth, which cause you to take better care of yourself; you are more likely to exercise, eat well, and not over- indulge in alcohol and other drugs. This results in a chain reaction known as the “adaptive spiral.”
In fact, it is in the daily encounters with friends that you define yourself. Your identity is strengthened and maintained through your friendships and the people you meet. Friendships allow you to link personal identity with membership in a larger community, where you share personal tastes, politics, religious views, and styles of living with like-minded individuals.
For many of us, friendships are inextricably woven into our narrative histories and stories. So, when you tell people who you are, who you hope to be, and who you are becoming, you are giving them a sense of your place in a larger community.
Networks of friends are also at the root of efforts to develop a collective identity, to build communities, to organize a political presence, and to create “spaces”. As a result, your participation in a community, its neighborhood, and organizations helps nurture your identity and strengthens friendship networks. Anything you can do to enhance your sense of community provides you with places to make new friends.
Thus, friends become the mechanism for not only learning about and maintaining your identity, but also for entering communities; for organizing into social, religious, and political groups; and for providing you with a sense of history and collective identity. Friendships are the route to understanding ourselves as individuals and as citizens of a larger community. Friendship is one of the essential ingredients for a healthy and happy life and a force that can help us achieve a better quality of life.