Having supportive relationships has a major impact on our health and wellbeing. In fact, one of the clearest findings to emerge from research into happiness is that we need close relationships to thrive. Friends help celebrate the good times and provide support through the bad times.
They even help us live longer! The Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging followed 1,500 people aged 70 and older over a period of 10 years, and researchers found that those with the strongest network of friends and confidants were 22% less likely to die during the study than those with the weakest network of good friendships.
In addition to longevity, research has credited friendship and social connection with:
Reducing stress and stress-related health problems
Increasing sense of belonging, connection, and purpose
Lowering risk of mental illness
Helping cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss, or the death of a loved one
Encouraging healthy lifestyle habits, such as exercise or quitting smoking
Promoting growth and learning
Contrary to popular belief, both introverts and extroverts benefit equally from good relationships, though the size and quality of their social network may differ. Some people prefer a large and diverse network of social connections, while others benefit from having a few close friendships. Researchers have noted that while we adapt to changes in circumstance (e.g. winning the lottery) fairly quickly, we continue to derive positive emotions from close relationships over the long term, so building healthy relationships is a good investment in your wellbeing!
Of course, building and maintaining relationships during a pandemic is exponentially more difficult. We are all coping with increased isolation in some form or another. Many of us are learning new technologies and finding new and creative ways to connect with our friends, family, and community.
Here are some questions to get you thinking:
What has been difficult about maintaining relationships during this pandemic?
What are some ways you have been successful at maintaining relationships and/or building new connections?
What is one thing you could do this week to either make a new connection or strengthen an existing connection?