We talk a lot about relationships in February. Romance is front and center around Valentine’s Day, with hearts and flowers everywhere you look. Friendship, however, doesn’t get nearly the same recognition. And yet, few things have a greater impact on our mental and physical health than our friends.
Research shows that people with strong social connections have greater longevity, have lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and faster recovery from illness. They also have an increased life-satisfaction and sense of belonging. In fact, a 2018 journal article called The Anatomy of Friendship states, “Friendship is the single most important factor influencing our health, well-being, and happiness.”
So how can we increase our social connections and get the most out of our friendships? Or, perhaps more importantly, how can we be good friends to others?
- Take (a little) Time – It doesn’t have to be a lot! Just a few minutes can make a big difference. Make a 5-minute phone call to let a friend know you’re thinking of them. Keep a pile of blank greeting cards handy and take a few seconds to jot down a note and send it to a friend. Text a fun picture. Stop by a work-friend's station at the end of your shift to catch up as you both head home for the day.
- Find Balance - Do you ever find yourself creating a “balanced” life by dividing it into two categories: work and family? I do this a lot – and it makes it tricky to prioritize time for friendships. But there is more to a balanced life than just these (albeit important) areas, like self-care, spirituality, or romance. Why not try combining quality friend time with other good-for-you activities? Grab a friend for a workout or a walk, take a class together, or start a gathering in your faith community. This way, you can build a friendship while maintaining a more well-rounded life.
- Be Friendly – Small, simple gestures can build relationships with acquaintances. Chat with your neighbors when you see them outside. Greet folks you encounter regularly at the park or the coffeehouse. Smile at people during your commute or when you’re out for a walk. Even these peripheral relationships can add a lot to your sense of belonging on your community – and you might just make someone else’s day while you’re at it!
One of the best things about friendship is that it’s mutually beneficial. When you put in the effort to strengthen your friendships, you’re enriching others’ lives, too. For more information on building friendships, and the benefits of doing so, visit these resources:
- University of Illinois Extension – Making and Keeping Friends
- Michigan State University Extension – Friendships: What Are They All About? Part 1 and Part 2
- Mayo Clinic – Friendships: Enrich Your Life and Improve Your Health
- New York Times – How to Be a Better Friend
MEET THE AUTHOR
Emily Schoenfelder joined the Illinois 4-H team in 2017. Prior to this, she began her work in positive youth development with California 4-H and the YMCA. She specializes in STEM engagement, social-emotional development, and educator professional development.
She received a Master of Science degree in recreation, park, and tourism administration from Western Illinois University.
When she is not writing curriculum or facilitating a training, you may find Emily sitting on the floor of her office, building marshmallow catapults out of popsicle sticks or designing mazes for robots for her next STEM program.
ABOUT THE BLOG
Connection Corner is a blog that provides timely information, activities, and resources to help you stay connected to loved ones, the world around you, and yourself.