Research suggests that friendship can help us find purpose and meaning, stay healthy, and live longer. Friends are more important than you think!!!
How can you sustain your friendships in a pandemic? The first step is recognizing their importance, argues author Lydia Denworth.
Researchers and philosophers have explored in great detail the emotional dramas of love and family. But they’ve spent much less time pondering the deep satisfaction of a good friend and the importance of friendship.
A similar thing happens in our own lives, writes science journalist Lydia Denworth. When something’s gotta give, it’s often our friendships, which take a backseat to our family and work obligations—or our latest fling.
But that’s a mistake, she argues in her new book, Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond. In fact, research suggests that friendships can help us find purpose and meaning, stay healthy, and live longer. The intimacy, support, equality, and emotional bonds we have in our friendships are unique.
Her book honors the relationships forged through slumber parties, shoulders cried upon, and kindnesses that don’t need to be repaid. “The science of friendship gives you permission to hang out with your friends and call it healthy,” she says. “You’re not being indulgent.” In a conversation with Greater Good, Denworth explains why we need our friends and how to keep those connections strong—even in a pandemic.
Kira Newman: How does friendship change for people across their lifespan?
Lydia Denworth: When you’re very young, of course, your primary social relationship is with your parents or caregivers. But when kids go to school, they start to have deeper friendships that involve, first, doing things together, and then a deeper, shared emotional element. Then in adolescence, it becomes even more abstract and relational.
All the way through high school and college, friendships can feel easy because you are thrown into an environment where you have lots of same-age peers and the pool of potential friends is big. Also, when you’re an adolescent, your brain is as attuned to social signals and connections as it will ever be. You are really hyper-interested in social activity.
Then in adulthood, as people start to have jobs and maybe get married or have a family, it can become harder to spend time with your friends. Toward the end of life, we tend to come back around to having a little bit more time once kids are grown and careers and jobs are less demanding.
There are these transition points in life when it’s easier or harder to spend time with friends, but what is important for people to know is that friendship is a lifelong endeavor and that it is something that people should be paying attention to at all points in life. I think that people sometimes think (especially in their 30s and 40s), “I just don’t have time for friends right now,” and that’s a mistake.
If you get to be 65 and then now you’re ready to start paying attention to friends, well, it’s a little bit like stopping smoking when you’re 65. If you go from 15 to 65 and you smoke the whole time, it’s still better to stop than not, but some damage will have been done. And if you don’t pay attention to friends all the way along, the same thing is true.
KN: You observe in your book that we tend to neglect our friendships when we get busy, more so than other relationships. Can you say more about that?
LD: The reason we do that is that we feel more beholden to our family that we’re related to, and that makes plenty of sense—we’re legally and biologically connected to our family members. So, I’m not saying that we should be spending a lot less time with family. But we also feel that spending time with friends, instead of working, is indulgent.