It is 8:00 p.m. You may be deciding between watching another episode of Breaking Bad, doing the laundry, scrolling aimlessly on social media, or going to bed early. What about calling your friend back? Even better, meeting them for a late coffee?
The effects of friendships on our quality and duration of life are astounding. However, it’s easy to let those relationships slide as our busy lives crowd out everything else. We shouldn’t. And the first way to keep our friends connected with us is to just call them back.
Physicists looked at 8 million phone calls made by 2 million people over the course of a year and determined that “the leading cause of persistent relationships is reciprocity —returning a friend’s call.” In fact, the researchers could look at two people’s phone patterns in a 15-day period and predict what their social network would look like in the future.
Another study spanning 19 years proves the case for the second thing to do to make your friendships thrive: Make time for them, because investing time in friendships is a key predictor of friendship longevity.
The majority of participants in one research study described the top function of friendship as “companionship,” which we can define as “the good feeling that comes with being with someone else.” Beyond the pleasure derived from hanging out with a good friend, there is ample research touting the additional, stunning benefits of friendship:
1. Friends Help You Live Longer
A meta-analysis of 148 studies found a 50 percent increased likelihood of survival for participants who had stronger social relationships. This remained consistent across age, sex, health status, cause of death, and follow-up period. The benefit of a social network was even stronger when one’s social integration was more complex.
2. Friends Help You Get Through Tough Challenges
Research suggests that friends help you “thrive through adversity,” buffer you from stress, and help you flourish in spite of tough circumstances.
3. Friends Help You Pursue Personal Growth
Research suggests that friendships help people “thrive by exceeding prior baseline levels of functioning.” Friendships help people explore, grow, and achieve more. They enable them to “embrace and pursue opportunities that enhance positive well-being, broaden and build resources, and foster a sense of purpose and meaning in life.”
4. Friends Help You Have More “Life Satisfaction”
Friendships satisfy important needs, including “the need to bond with someone like us in some ways and unlike us in others, having someone to call on for comfort, and someone with whom we can share memorable experiences.” Friendship satisfaction—not just one’s number of friends—has shown to be one of the two strongest predictors of life satisfaction (along with job satisfaction).
5. Friends Protect Your Mental Health
The next time you’re facing that crucial decision about what to do with your evening, let it be in favor of your friends.
Copyright Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD
Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD, author of forthcoming book The Joy Fix for Weary Parents: Tools to Help you Overcome Fatigue, Guilt, and Stress and Build a Life You Love, is a counselor for individuals and couples in Chicago’s western suburbs. www.erinleyba.com Follow her on Facebook, Twitter or sign up for email updates.