“No man is a failure who has friends.” Do you remember that line from It’s a Wonderful Life? It was the essence of that beautiful movie and a lesson that I try to live by.
Last month, I attended the funeral of an elderly family member. He was remembered as an intelligent man who had many accomplishments. But the thing that struck me most was the quality of his friendships. He was part of a prayer group that met weekly for over twenty years. The group even met a few days before his death to pray for him and to mourn together. When I left the funeral, I thought, “Now that’s a successful man!”
I met with one of my oldest and dearest friends for lunch the other day. We hadn’t been in touch for fifteen years but as soon as we saw each other, we gave each other a huge bear hug. It was like returning home.
What happened to fifteen years, we wondered. Births. Deaths. Weddings. Moves. Accomplishments. My friend told me about her mom’s passing and we cried together. I told her about my daughters’ adventures and we laughed hysterically. We reminisced about our school days and we giggled like kids. Our reunion was like finding a precious piece of jewelry that had gone missing.
As I drove away, I wondered why it was so much easier to stay in touch with friends when I was younger. Was it just the fact that there was more time? Less responsibilities?
In recent years, the importance of strong social connections throughout life is becoming a focus of psychological research. The benefits of such connections include greater pain tolerance, a stronger immune system, and a decreased risk of depression and early death.
So…how can adults develop friendships and social connections? Here’s what the research suggests:
- Make yourself familiar to others. Going to the same place, such as a gym, at the same time every day can help turn strangers into friends.
- Share a secret. Friendships get stronger when people open up to one another.
- Have a positive attitude. Feeling isolated can make us more likely to see things in a negative light. Challenge negative thoughts and share positive experiences with others. This draws people closer.
- Don’t change who you are. Whether you’re comfortable with a few close friends or prefer a large group of acquaintances, what matters is that you feel a part of something greater than yourself. Find your own way of making that happen.
Also, call your friends. It will be like returning home!
Friends Wanted. Miller, A. Monitor on Psychology. Volume 45 (1) Jan 2014, 54-58.
“The Lethality of Loneliness,” http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/”The-Lethality-of-Loneliness-Joh.
Donna Cangelosi, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist and children’s writer. She has published stories in Humpty Dumpty, Stories for Children, REAL Canadian Kids and Clubhouse Junior. Donna has also published several Psychology books about the therapeutic use of children’s play. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org twitter @DonnaCangelosi2
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