Make Friends and Be Happy: Why Cultivating Relationships Is Good for You

by Kate Luther on 1 March 2012 1 comment
Photo: Stock Xchng

We all have that "one person" that we can call anytime — day or night — for just about any reason. I'm lucky enough to have several — friends and family who are just as willing to listen to my woes as they are to share in my triumphs.

These are the people who know to just gasp and nod when you need to vent, they pretend that they're interested in all the stories about your children, and they tell you how wonderful you are when you're feeling down. A few will even offer to help you move, an act that in itself makes these relationships worth cherishing.

But the willingness to transport boxes isn't the only reason you should work harder to build a social circle. In fact, there's several good reasons for cultivating relationships, all of which help make your life infinitely better. (See also: Should You Lend to Friends and Family?)

1. Support

When we first moved out to the country, we immediately embraced our new lifestyle by buying horses. In the process, we made several new friends with equine interests and as a result, discovered all sorts of wonderful riding trails we never knew existed. But it wasn't until one of our horses got sick that I realized just how strong that circle of friends had become.

Within minutes, we had five different neighbors standing in our pasture, taking turns walking the horse to keep him from going down. One of the neighbors called a veterinarian friend who promptly showed up with a concoction that would give the horse a fighting chance...no charge.

And then they all stayed, until the wee hours of the morning, refusing to leave until they knew the horse would be okay.

Having a strong support network is like having a safety net to catch you when you fall off the high wire. Good friends will support you when you try something new, and they'll help you pick up the pieces when your venture doesn't work out. They let you rant when you need to and pull you back on track when you've lost your way. They'll loan you money, drive you home, and bring you chicken soup when you're sick...and they'll have your back no matter what, even if it means standing in your pasture all night to tend to a sick horse.

2. Health

I mentioned chicken soup earlier, but the health benefits of good friends actually goes much deeper than that — having good friends can actually help you ward off disease before it ever strikes.

Research shows that people with a happy social life tend to be less stressed than their non-social counterparts — a nice side benefit of having someone to talk to when life isn't going your way. Friends also have the ability to impact our mood and boost our self-esteem, two important factors that affect our perspective on life and the world around us.

As a result, strong relationships actually help us stay healthier and live longer, a perk I'm sure we'd all like to take advantage of.

3. Personal Advancement

My husband has a natural social charm that allows him to connect with just about anyone, anywhere, anytime, and because of this, we've enjoyed a continuous stream of free stuff, cheap stuff, and amazing opportunities we wouldn't of had otherwise. In addition to our horse friends I mentioned earlier, for example, he also has friends that work on air conditioning units and friends who work on cars. Once or twice a year, we have a friend who sends over enough fresh beef to fill a freezer, another friend that sends chicken, and yet another friend who supplies us with pork.

If we need a trailer, there's about three friends we can borrow from, and if we need work done on our house, well, there's about three more friends that can help us there.

We've enjoyed weekends at a private retreat at no charge, and we have access to boats and jet skis whenever we want to use them.

In short, our circle of friends has enriched our lives in every way imaginable. Not that we purposely seek out these social connections with that strategy in mind, and I'm certainly not advocating that you make friends based on what those friends can offer. All of these relationships have an unspoken tit for tat, so rest assured that we do for them just as they do for us.

But there's a reason that people say "it's all in who you know." And the more people you know, the more enrichment you'll enjoy.

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4. Accountability

Just as friends are willing to listen when we rant, they're also willing to say when enough's enough. And sometimes, that's exactly what we need.

Having someone who's not afraid to tell you the truth will help you become a better person. It keeps us honest and helps us avoid the trap of self-pity. Yes, it's nice to have someone who will sing your praises no matter what, but it's also useful to have a friend who doesn't pull any punches.

Those are the friends that drag you out of bed when you're feeling sorry for yourself; they hold you to your promises and call you on your bull instead of just letting it slide. They tell you when you've messed up, when you're being ridiculous, and when you're headed in the wrong direction.

And because they're willing to call like it is, you'll always have an honest opinion about the person you're becoming and the life you're creating.

Now, making and keeping these friends isn't always easy, and I'll be the first to admit that I'm not always as diligent as I should be. But if there's one thing I've learned from my relationships, its that each has its own rhythm.

Some friendships require daily connections, while others work just as well with less frequency. I have a friend who lives in Chicago, for example, and we talk on the phone once a month. But when we have that phone call, it's like we haven't missed a day...that sisterly bond is still just as strong, and the affection we share for each other hasn't waned a bit. And I know without a doubt that I'll never be truly alone.

And that, I believe, is the real benefit of friendship.

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Marcus Cicero considered friends to be such a valuable asset; "Friendship improves happiness and abates misery by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief."

Really!