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The Complete Guide to Healthy Friendships

Why are friendships important? Research establishes that health and joy are correlated with quality friendships.

Create a life that is deeply satisfying. Here’s how to enrich your life with healthy relationships.

Reciprocal friendships are an essential aspect of wellness for human beings.

It’s relating to other human beings through which you evolve – and how you deepen and expand your experience of love, fulfillment, and meaning.

The amount of joy you feel – and the amount of health you experience – during any given year correlates to the quality of friendships you possess.

Putting a bit more strategic effort toward your acquaintanceships, friendships, and kinships could help you improve your health and prosperity:

  • First, you have to decide which relationships should be your most important.
  • Next, you can choose to reinvest in those friendships.
  • Additionally, you may decide that you need to create some brand new relationships.
  • The time and energy you invest in your friendships will, long-term, reap big dividends.

Imagine that, for most of human existence, our species typically lived in groups of 40-50 members (visualize a small village of 28 adults, 7 children, and a few elderly). When the groups grew larger there was a tendency to split and form smaller groups.

It’s possible that 28 is the upper limit of close adult friendships that one person can handle effectively.

But here’s the thing: those 28 people used to all know each other.

We were all in the same village. In today’s mobile culture, it seems nearly impossible to gather our entire tribe together in person so that we can make observations about how to define our roles – and how to strengthen as a happy, unified group.

Has the biological wiring of our brains evolved at the same pace as external technological advances? If not, is it impacting our mental health?

Think now of a friend for whom you feel grateful. I encourage you to message this article to a friend to let them know you’re glad they exist in the world.

The Friendships List: Make A List of 28 People You Know Who You Like or Respect

What you need to get started are:

  1. a positive attitude
  2. a relationship list
  3. and a friendship action-plan.

If living a happy and healthy life is important to you – especially as you age – then you must pay attention to the relationships in your life. A good place to start is to identify your 28 biggest givers.

If you’re an introvert like me, you might not even know 28 people. That’s okay. Just make a list, however small, of the people you do know who you experience as generous and kind.

Write down 28 names of your most favorite, most-generous friends and acquaintances – and also write down when the last time was you reached out and connected with each person.

The number 28 is derived from the capacity of the human brain to form intimate attachments.

28 is thought to be around the upper limit of close adult friendships that one person can handle effectively.

You can cultivate relationships that:

  • increase your prosperity
  • improve your health
  • imbue your life with deeper meaning.

It’s connections with other human beings that turn life from black-and-white, into color.

The more healthy, intimate connections you have, the more vitality you will have in your later years – and research suggests (see sources below) the more of those later years you will actually have.

A review of 148 studies found that people with strong social friendships are 50% less likely to die prematurely.

3 healthy friendships hiking in woods

Some animals only thrive amidst an environment of healthy relationships.

Additionally, prosperity often equates with the abundance of quality, reciprocal relationships in one’s life. So close connections with other people are even more than just the spiritual zest of life – they have practical, earthly implications, too.

Reciprocal, gratifying relationships are an important part of your successful aging strategy.

Any hospice volunteer will tell you that – in the end – the realizations people have as they are dying are related in some way to a wish that they had been more intentional with relationships while alive.

Let’s engage! I encourage you to connect with me via the social channels:

You can be part of the ongoing conversation. I have:

Paying close attention to your connections with others is not an extracurricular activity – it’s the reason for life itself.

It is relationships that matter most, and any new wellness regimen that does not include a component for improving relationships is incomplete.

 

Interpersonal experts such as Brian Buffini, Keith Ferrazzi, and Michael Port passionately devote their entire professional lives to helping others understand this simple concept: to increase your success you must improve your friendships.

Longevity science is revealing a significant correlation between:

  • the quality of the relationships in your life
  • how long you will live
  • how healthy and happy your remaining years of life will be

Healthy relationships are what provide you with the sensation of being fully alive – of being heard, seen, deeply known, and loved.

Make your list of 28 relationships today – give yourself a month to reach out and connect with each of them.

Think of it as your personal social experiment.

After a month, you can determine for yourself in what ways your life feels enriched.

healthy friendships thrive

Healthy relationships aspire to offer feelings of warmth and belonging, and the sensation of being known.

Much of this hinges on exchange – that loop-of-energy that is passed between people leaving each with the feeling that they are winning.

Everyone is different, so there’s no perfect formula for evaluating this exchange:

  • Extroverts get their energy from being around others, and prefer larger numbers and quick, bright exchanges.
  • Introverts are comfortable with smaller numbers of people, but they’re also generally able to go deeper in each of those relationships.

For those of you who happen to be an introvert, I encourage to remember that it’s much easier to remove negative people from your environment than it is to add new positive people into your life.

Removing negativity can be relatively fast and is the best place to start – adding positivity takes longer for adults, and is a process.

For an introvert – someone who recharges their emotional batteries in solitude – 28 is just an inspiring goal – not a mandatory requirement.

relationships more important than ever

Think of life as a delicious journey during which you get to add positive people gradually over time, as you get to know yourself better and better – and as opportunities arrive intermittently.

There is an irony in today’s culture: people often feel under-utilized, feeling a lack of meaning in their lives while – at the same time – experiencing themselves as too busy and physically drained.

Many people have convinced themselves that they are imagining it. Surrounded by noise, chaos, and responsibilities throughout the day, how could they be isolated?

When people increase their feelings of connection and intimacy, disconcerting feelings diminish. This highlights the importance of tending to our tribe.

Prioritizing Friendships: Who to Keep in Your Tribe (and Who to Let Drift Away)

As much as we love those with whom we share much in common, it can be those who stand in opposition to us who can help us understand ourselves more fully and assist us in reflecting upon the positions we take and the values we want to cultivate.

There can be blessings in all types of relationships, especially when we come to use those differences as a catalyst for personal growth.

Ah, if only there was unlimited time, unlimited energy, and our brains were able to process and hold space for thousands of intimate relationships.

But time is limited, our physical energy has limits and our cognition, too, requires a limit to the number of close friendships we can sustain.

The first exercise is to write down your 28 closest adult relationships.

You can always revise and fine-tune it later (you will periodically need to revise the list).

This isn’t a high school popularity contest, and you don’t have to share the results of your list with anyone else.

Better Friendships: Give to Your Givers

The Pareto Principle – also known as the 80/20 rule – is named after an Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto who first observed that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.

This principle seems to operate as a natural law of the Universe, and when we align with it, our lives can become uncommonly effective and productive.

What the Pareto Principle reveals, basically, is that 20% of your tasks deserve 80% of your energy.

For example, you probably have a ‘to do list’ (be it in your head, scribbled on paper, or saved on a smart phone). These are the things that need to get done.

But which items on your to-do list will lead most directly to your increased joy and prosperity?

  • 80% of profits come from 20% of customers
  • 80% of health care resources are used by 20% of patients
  • 80% of sales come for 20% of sales staff
  • 80% of crimes are committed by 20% of criminals
  • 80% of profits come from 20% of the time you spend
  • 80% of your energy investment will come from only 20% of your tasks

Writer Tim Ferris speaks boldly about attention as a currency and how it determines the value of time. “Income is renewable,” he writes, “but some other resources – like attention, are not.”

I encourage you to run everything in your life through the 80/20 filter, but most especially your relationships.

Pay attention to your daily habits and weekly calendar, look through those 28 names on your Relationship List and examine which of these people seem to most contribute to your sense of well-being, prosperity or joy.

  • Who are the most generous people in your life?

Keep in mind, that when I use words like “generous” and “equitable,” I’m talking about overall energy.

I’m asking you to look down from a high altitude over a longer course of time.

Someone you care about might at this moment not be “generous” or able to exchange energy equally with you, but over the course of your life they have been a generous soul.

So when crafting your list, look at the long term (not just the immediate):

  • Are you giving the most generous people in your life about as much time and energy as you give everyone else – or, perhaps, even less?
  • Do you even have an awareness of who the equitable givers in your realm are?

Imagine for a moment that your life is like a glass jar.

You have rocks, pebbles, and sand.

Your goal is to fit as much into the glass jar as you can.

You will find that you fit far more when you start with the rocks first. (After the rocks are in place, then come the pebbles and finally, the sand, to fill-in whatever spaces might remain.)

The “givers” in your life are like those rocks. You’ll want to make room for them first!

With the time that remains, you’ll have the opportunity to utilize some of your remaining energy resources on your life’s less-pivotal relationships, as you choose.

Repeat after me:  “Give to your givers!”

As you consider where you will choose to devote your resources going forward, I encourage you to be aware of the mistake most modern people are making: offering their loved-ones and “givers” their energy leftovers.

Now, from your list of 28 – of your favorite friendships, relationships, colleagues and acquaintances – choose your 9 biggest givers.

Write next to these 9 names when you last saw each person socially, face-to-face (even if it was online video conferencing, like FaceTime).

Next, plan a get-together or webcam appointment (some of your givers might live out-of-town).

Start with the Giver with whom it has been the longest since you’ve spent some quality time.

Formula for Healthy Friendships and a Life Well-Lived

  • To keep your tribe healthy, thriving, and meeting your relational needs, the formula is simple: see each of your 9 Givers once each quarter (every three months).
  • Connect with each of the remaining 19 in your tribe once every half-year.

About the 9:

  • The time you spend with your givers should be quality time. These are the people who help to infuse your life with its magic. Even if you’re shy, extend yourself. Make the call, and plan something together.

About the 19:

  • The remaining 19 names on the list of relationships will look very different for each person. If you’re a busy parent with five kids in the school system, you may know thousands of people. If you’re an introvert who works from home, you may know only a few people. It doesn’t matter. Just fill out as many names as you can.

Some people you’ll be able to see one-on-one, others you can group together into activities — a casual Sunday brunch at home, coffee at the corner cafe, or an easy hike.

Relating is a verb.

As a garden needs cultivating — water, nourished soil, sunlight to grow — so relationships require consistent effort. Come harvest time, however, what rewards we reap.

Your crop will be abundant!

Mature couple spending quality time together, strengthening their relationship.

Additional Sources on Healthy Friendships:

• Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community – Robert Putnam – “Social Capital Primer” http://bowlingalone.com/?page_id=13

• Evolutionary Psychiatry – Steven Anthony – “Mood Disorders and Psychiatric Symptoms are Manifestations of Ancient Adaptive Strategies” http://www.anthonystevens.co.uk/evolutionary.htm

• 10 Types of Odd Friendships You’re Probably Part Of – Tim Urban – http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/12/10-types-odd-friendships-youre-probably-part.html

• Absent Friendships – The Consequences of Social Isolation – Miranda Bauer – “Building a Social Safety Net” https://www.bluezones.com/2012/04/friends-nourish-the-body-and-soul/

• Friendships Matter: Health risks from Isolation Comparable to Risks of Cigarette-Smoking – Mary Jo Kreitzer, RN, PhD – http://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/enhance-your-wellbeing/relationships/why-personal-relationships-are-important

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