3 Ways Good Friends Can Help You Feel Healthier And Happier, According To Recent Studies

Another reason to leave the house to meet people.

When it comes to making friends, it's important we surround ourselves with those who make us smile and keep life drama-free. Not only do friends make life more fun, but according to two recent large-scale studies on friendships and wellness. good pals have a huge impact on our health

William Chopik, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University, conducted a study that suggests the relationship we have with our friends can affect our health and overall happiness. Survey data of 271,053 adults of all ages show that people who strongly value friendships report feeling more positive about their wellness.

In a second study, Chopik analyzed 7,481 older adults who were asked detailed questions about their relationships and health over the course of six years. According to the findings, participants who reported receiving support from family and friends had fewer chronic illnesses, while participants who reported the opposite were prone to chronic illness. 

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Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

"It's incredibly hard to maintain friendships over long periods of time," Chopik tells A Plus. "There are entire theories in psychology dedicated to examining why our social networks shrink over time. Among the ones that do stand the test of time are the ones that make us the happiest and what we find most meaningful. As we age, we tend to chip away at the more superficial friendships, which leave behind the more meaningful ones we derive happiness from. So, definitely, the ones that last are the ones that affect of well-being the most." 

But what is it about our pals that keeps us happy and healthy?  While there's no one answer, the study identified three major ways friendships can help improve our overall health and well-being. 

1. Good friendships help reduce stress.

Stress is one of the most common triggers for life-threatening health issues. In fact, stress-related diseases such as heart disease are some of the leading causes of death in The United States.  "Stress affects us physiologically — the stress response systems in our body are chronically activated, which is a major problem that can lead to a number of chronic illnesses," explained Chopik. "Bad relationships are also practically difficult. The hope is that we enjoy our relationships and can draw on them when we need support, whether that be practical, [like] a running buddy, going for a walk, or emotional support [like] lending a shoulder to cry on." 

Many other studies have proven the importance of healthy relationships; Yahoo Life points to evidence  that shows social strain from relationships can negatively impact mental health and increase the risk of heart disease. "We tend to spend leisure time more so with friends than we do with our immediate families," Chopik said. "So friendship is a relationship of enjoyment and convenience, whereas spousal or family relationships have their share of negative emotions and (some) stay together out of a sense of obligation. So friends reduce stress greatly." It's true. Friends are the family members we choose to have; they are the great people we invite into our lives. It's OK to be selective when it comes to choosing your friends. Frenemies are simply (and literally) not worth all of the stress. 

2. Friends can help you feel emotionally and physically better.

Whether you're having a bad day, need care while home ill, or just going through a rough time, having a friend around to lift your spirits can do the body and soul good. "In our field, friendship has always had this subordinate role in our studies and most researchers don't even ask people about their friends," Chopik shared. "Which is unfortunate because many people rely on their friends for all sorts of support, whether they have a family or not." Even when it comes to mental illnesses, friends can make a difference. According to Thomas House, one of the authors from a relevant study, reported that while depression isn't contagious, a "healthy mood" can be.  He said, "your friends can protect you from depression and help you recover from it."

If you're wondering if you need to be surrounded by thousands of friends to feel great, the answer is no. Having just one BFF who loves and supports you can be more beneficial than having a long list of acquaintances. "It's definitely the quality that matters more [than quantity]," Chopik explained. "Quantity can mean a lot of different things. Also, by definition, if you have a lot of friends, they're necessarily more superficial — just think of the person that has 2,000 Facebook friends. My 2017 study specifically looked at the quality of different relationships and found that that's what mattered the most."

3. Friends who show they care help improve the quality of your life overall.

Another benefit of having friends is having someone who truly sees and hears you. So many of the relationships in our lives require us to play a role: parent, daughter, son, sibling, spouse, boss, employee — the list can go on. But with friends, you get to just be you. Our friends can help us navigate the many different stages of life in a way that no other relationship can.  "When people enter long-term romantic relationships, they often withdraw from friends (that's called 'dyadic withdrawal')," said Chopik. "This is also unfortunate because there's research showing that good friendships outside of a romantic relationship can increase passion within that relationship. So friends aren't just for single people any more." 

As his studies have shown, having a platonic companionship gets way more important as we get older and Chopik attributes this to the true self-fulfillment many people seek in old age. "I mentioned before about theories about social networks across the lifespan," Chopik said. "One of those theories involves older adults realizing that life is short. This realization motivates people to invest in things that are more emotionally enjoyable. One of the most enjoyable things in life are our good friendships. That's what I think at least."

(H/T: Yahoo Life)

Cover image via Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

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