You might remember in my invitation letter I mentioned Simon Sinek’s work, Why Every Leader Needs a Buddy.  He shares that a leadership buddy can be a colleague, but doesn’t necessarily have to be. It can be a friend or a mentor who aspires to leadership, but it must be someone you believe in and you’re willing to sacrifice your own interests to help.  Think about that for a moment, “Someone we are willing to sacrifice our own interests to help!”  To me that sounds like a lot more than a buddy, it sounds like a friend.

“Friends are one of the greatest sources of support we will find throughout our lives.”  Thus begins the post, 7 Benefits of Friends, According to Science”.  Being able to count on someone and having someone count on you in return can serve to help alleviate some of the problems we face daily and in life.  What is equally important is that science has proven that friendship provides many other benefits as well:

  1. Friends Help Reduce Your Levels of Stress – Simply put, stress manifests itself when there is a tension between reality and the resources we have to accept and adapt.  The selfless communication provided by friends serves as a support mechanism that makes our tension lessen.
  2. Friends Contribute to Better Overall Health – Research (Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) reveals that people with good friends exhibit better overall health.  Why?  Those reporting friendships that exhibited true concern their welfare also reported increased levels of self-care.
  3. People With Friends Feel Less Pain – A study of pain and affection revealed that those who were surrounded by caring individuals perceived pain in a less intense manner.  Additionally the study reported that those with friends evidenced better emotional disposition.
  4. The Heart Becomes Stronger – A Duke University study compared the impact of friendship and physical exercise on 1000 individuals with cardiovascular disease.  Both factors had positive impact on the heart.  The study presented evidence that people reporting strong bonds of friendship had better cardiovascular health five years out when compared to those reporting no close friends.
  5. Friends Help Prolong Our Lives – A compilation of U.K. studies (including over 300,000 people) examined the relationship between  bonds and mortality.  The results evidenced a clear link between death and solitude.  It became obvious that those with bonds of friendship outlived those lacking them.
  6. Friends Contribute Towards the Prevention of Obesity – Science is still unable to account for all factors contributing to obesity.  While there is clear evidence of genetic, metabolic and psychological factors, no definitive causes have been identified.  An investigation appearing in the “ Annals of Behavioral Medicine” indicates that friendship is a factor of emotional compensation of great importance and that people with friends were less likely to eat in an impulsive manner.
  7. Friends Help Us Increase Our Mental Acuity – Human interaction stimulates the brain.  The mere act of prolonged conversation stimulates brain activity.  Likewise, isolation from human interaction has been shown to lead to a deterioration of cognitive abilities.

One of the most important things we can remember is this, while making friends is important, our main task should be to learn to be a good friend to others.  “Friends offer us an additional dose of endearment, which is the best antidote against bitterness!” ; which leads us to the question of maintaining friendships.

When I retired, a  good friend, Mary, reached out to me and gave me some sound advise about friendships.  “Don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from your old friends at work after you retire.”  She was right. Those friendships have slowly gone by the wayside, and that is the product of two factors.  First, the environment in which those friendships was cultivated and grew is gone.  A powerful factor, but not one, in and of itself, for which the loss can be attributed.  A second and more powerful factor is the fact that friendships must be maintained, and that is something that rests partially with me.  I should have done more to maintain those relationships. Anna Goldfarb’s New York Times post, “How to Maintain Friendships shares this challenge.  She begins by considering the relationship of age and time.  “Both move in the same direction, but the older we get, the more inverse that relationship can feel.”  Research reveals that the number of social connections for both men and women peak at around the age of 25.  As young adults we settle into careers and romantic relationships and our social circles shrink and friendship takes a backseat. What results over time?  One researcher called the loneliness epidemic evidenced by over 42 million Americans over the age of 45, a greater health threat than obesity.  So what can be done?  Goldfarb suggests several ideas that don’t require a huge time commitment, but do require communication:

  • Communicate Expectations   Be clear about your limits.  Are there days of the week or projects that will occupy your time.  Let your friends know.  Unfortunately some take the phrase, “I’m too busy” as a blow-off.  Lacking context, it is!  A better approach might be to be proactive, make the counter offer.  If you can’t get together face-to-face, suggest a phone call, Skype/FaceTime session, or another way to connect so your friend doesn’t feel abandoned.  Equally important, examine your busyness!  If you can find time to watch TV or scroll social media, you can find time for your friends.
  • Personal Small Gestures Are the Way to Go – Sometime a simple text message can make all the difference.  Making messages as personal as possible shows somebody you’re thinking about them.  It could precede an important part of their day, “Good luck with that interview, I know you will nail it”; or follow a stressful day or event, “Was thinking about you during your budget meeting today.  Looking forward to getting together soon and talking more.”
  • Cultivate Routines – Having a regular “Hang” with your closest friends can take the guesswork out of scheduling.  Perhaps it is breakfast on Fridays, or an after-work cycling class, a book club or simply a Sunday session at the fire pit. Repeated interactions are important to the maintenance of friendships.
  • Come Through When it Counts – Even when life is hectic, a friend comes through when it counts, especially when it means attending a milestone event.  Whether it be a birthday, retirement party, baby shower, or memorial service, just show up!  “There aren’t too many chances to make an impact in someone’s life, but when you move mountains and carve out time for an event important to a friend, it speaks volumes and will sustain the friendship.”
  • Acknowledge Efforts Made – Sometimes the energy spent to maintain the friendship is not always equal.  If you’re not the one expending the energy, let your friend know you appreciate their check-ins.  At the same time, remember that their efforts to contact you or stay in touch may be their way of reaching out saying, “I need some time with my friend”.  Addressing friends’ bids for attention can mean the difference between a friendship flourishing or fading during frantic times.

It seems to be a no-brainer; friends can serve to improve our health, help us to live longer, and often provide the needed emotional support we all need periodically. When you get a moment, take 10 minutes to watch Mike Duffy’s TEDxBerkely presentation, “The Critical Importance of Friends on Your Happiness  It will be time well spent.

One can never have too many friends. Likewise, one of the most valuable things we can lose is a friendship.  With that I encourage you to reach out this week and cultivate your current friendships, be open to new ones, and rekindle those that have possibly gone by the wayside.  Embrace the Challenge and look forward to time with Old Friends!