The Power of Friendship
Here’s a true story you can’t help but love. In 2008, researchers at the University of Virginia conducted an experiment involving 34 students, who they fitted with weighted backpacks and took to the base of a steep hill. The students were asked to look at the hill and estimate how steep it was. Some participants stood next to friends during the exercise, whilst others were asked to stand alone. And the result? The students who stood with friends uniformly gave lower estimates of the steepness of the hill. What’s more, the longer the friends had known each other, the less steep the hill appeared!
And so, from a fairly simple experiment, a profound truth emerges. If you have a hill to climb in your life (and at some point, we all do) then try to climb it with a friend by your side. They will help to make you more optimistic about the climb, the journey will be easier, and you will almost certainly be happier.
In essence, friends are good for us. It is something which all of us understand instinctively, but which is being supported more and more by research. Take, for example, the results of a meta-study released by Brigham Young University in 2010, which makes starkly clear the relationship between social interaction and morbidity. In the study, those with strong social networks were found to have a 50% greater likelihood of survival than those who lived in relative social isolation. For those in the latter category, it was concluded that the risks of limited social interaction were:
* As bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day
* As dangerous as being an alcoholic
* As harmful as never exercising
* Twice as dangerous as obesity
Other studies support these findings. For example, a 10-year Australian study completed in 2005 found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22% less likely to die during the study than those with few friends, whilst Harvard University researchers have reported that strong social ties can promote brain health as we age.
A separate New England study has found that those who exercise with friends lose significantly more weight than those who exercise alone and research conducted at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh indicates that people with a dependable network of friends are much better able to cope with stress and less likely to acquire cardiovascular problems or immunity related disorders.
Clearly then, friendship is a powerful tool in supporting our physical and emotional well-being. We should not be surprised by this. We are, after all, social beings and throughout history we have been dependent on those around us for comfort and support.
Friends are not only there for us in times of difficulty, they serve as sounding-boards, allowing us to guage our progress and development. We will tend to take better care of ourselves if we have friends around us, we will have better control of our lives and we will be offered continual boosts to our self-esteem.
Ultimately, friendship is good for our souls. It is a part of what makes us human; part of what gives us spirit and which allows us to shine. It reveals the best of us and remains an aspect of our lives that we should forever nurture and treasure.