Just the other day I had a dinner date booked with a friend whom I had not seen for some time. My work day had been a full one, and to be frank I was feeling rather distracted and overwhelmed as I rushed to meet my friend for dinner.
One part of me was thinking I should have stayed at work and finished the project I was working on, while the other part of me was yearning to return to my house and get into my pajamas after a long day. I was 15 minutes late and arrived slightly flustered, but once I saw my friend’s warm smiling face greeting me and her hand waving to me over the table, my mood shifted.
As soon as I settled into the booth the thoughts of my work day and my pajamas faded away, and I was so pleased to be catching up with her. It really had been too long. I forgot about my distractions and just became curious about her life. It was such a relief to get out of my own head, and to be engaged with my friend in good conversation. We laughed, we shared stories and we may have even have cried a little.
There was no doubt that this dinner out with my friend was just where I needed to be. When I returned home that evening, I felt more energized and balanced than I had the entire week. Feeling the afterglow of that good visit reminded me that there is nothing quite like a good friend, and how time with a friend can fill you up in the right way.
Investing in friendships is part of a finding a healthy balance in life. We care for and enjoy our friends, but sometimes we might forget to think about how we can secure and grow our friendships. Any sort of investment requires some time and thought. Maintaining friendships requires effort, but when we look at the health benefits of friendships, this effort is worth it.
People who have strong supports have significantly reduced health risks.The bottom line is that good friends can actually help us lower our blood pressure, reduce stress, and increase our level of fitness. It turns out that friendship is not just good for us socially, but it also improves our mental and physical health!
There are many benefits to having nurturing and supportive friendships in your life. So what are the qualities that make a good friend? Well the first thing is that to have good friends, you must be a good friend.
The care and energy you bring to others will be reflected back to you in those friendships. So how can we be a better friend? What are the cornerstones of friendship that allow us to weather the storms of life and celebrate the victories together?
- Just listen. Avoid falling into the trap of giving your friends advice, or telling them about a story where the same thing happened to you. It actually shuts people down if you try to give them advice or answer all the questions and provide solutions. It can also shut people down when they want to share their story with you, and the next thing you know the other person hijacks the story. Just let your friend talk.
Give your friend your full attention (put away the phone — do not answer the text!) We all want to be heard; trust and intimacy are developed when we feel that someone is truly listening and cares about what we are experiencing. When we feel heard by someone, we feel as if we belong and that we are not alone. This itself brings great comfort to a friend.
- Share, Share, share! Bonds grow through sharing. We do not have to be the same to share. Although our similarities often bring us together, there is plenty of room to share and enjoy our differences as well. In fact differences can build intimacy as they keep us curious and engaged with each other. But we will build a closer friendship by if we create common ground through sharing. Be generous with your friends. Share your stories, share your values, share some laughter and share some tears — it is truly the shared experiences that build the bonds.
- Have realistic expectations. Try not to make one friend your all and everything. It is fine to have “besties”, and lifelong friends — but if we set our expectations too high we may be setting ourselves and our friends up for a disappointment. Everyone has their limits and everyone needs their boundaries — so be realistic in what you can expect from another. If your friend is a bit distant and disappoints you in some way, it does not mean they do not care about you — they just might be preoccupied or having a bad day of their own.
- Forgiveness. This is a pillar in any long term relationship of significance. We will inevitably get it wrong at some point or disappoint each other. Try to have empathy and compassion for each other and make room for the differences. Try not to personalize everything. If your feelings are hurt, do your best to work through it and then forgive your friend and yourself and let it go.
- Never forget the fun. Being with our friends can bring us some of our best stories and memories. Friends really do bring the fun and joy into our lives. Be playful together — there is nothing like a shared joyful experience. Laughter and good friends really can be the best medicine of all.