In American culture, making money is a big sign of success. But there’s a much more crucial currency for long-term success that has nothing to do with your financial livelihood: friendships. Studies show that good friendships are more than just fun; they benefit your health and support your future success.
It makes sense: good friends help you succeed by being your sounding boards, your cheerleading squad, and the people you fall back on when you feel lost and broken. According to Irene S. Levine PhD, a clinical psychologist, and creator of The Friendship Blog, friendships are extremely important.
“Friends serve as role models from whom we can learn different ways of being, she says. “If we admire our friends, they raise the bar for the persons whom we can become.”
I’ve always been drawn to friends who are wise in ways that I am not—among my best friends are: scientists, yoga instructors, skilled artisans, and geologists. As a writer, their varied viewpoints and plethora of skills inform my work and widen my perspectives. They also talk me down from ledges of despair, and push me toward goals I might be too scared to pursue on my own. With the support of fellow writer friends, I’ve also been able to launch into freelance writing, sell my books, and teach writing workshops. Their virtual and literal hands upon my back guide me as they say: “You’ve got this.”
Parents also keenly know the benefit of friends to having a successful work-life balance. When my only child was born, I was unprepared for how much of my mental resources I’d lose from sleep deprivation and hormone fluctuations. To top it off, I’d moved two hours away from my time-tested community full of friends and was struggling with depression. Dr. Levine says feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression are common for people without close friends or a support network. To this day, I credit the new friends I was lucky enough to make for saving my sanity in those tough postpartum days through commiseration, dragging me out for walks, and other forms of support.
Having a few solid besties can also help you physically: it can improve your blood pressure, strengthen your immunity, keep your cortisol levels down, and help you sleep better, according to the Mayo Clinic. They also contribute to your emotional health by creating a sense of belonging. In this age of social media, it is more possible than ever to find your tribe no matter how niche-based or unusual it may be—from “Whovians” (Fans of the show Dr. Who) to stay-at-home moms, to long-distance runners.
“Friends enhance our self-confidence,” Levine says. “They make us feel part of something larger than ourselves. When problems crop up in life, as they invariably do, talking to a friend lightens the load.”
But making and keeping friends in the hectic pace of daily life is often not as easy as we’d like. Levine encourages making time for friends a priority. “People need to recognize the value of close friendships and set aside time from their busy schedules. Women, especially, often have to juggle their roles as workers and as caregivers for children and aging parents. However, spending time with friends makes us better parents, spouses and workers.”
She recommends creating rituals with your friends to strengthen the bonds, and to recognize that at different times you may have more or less time for friendships so as not to take friendship fluctuations personally.
While making new friends can be a little daunting, it doesn’t need to be complicated. My first friend in my new town was my chiropractor’s receptionist. When she heard I was new to the area, she suggested we go out for coffee sometime. Shyly, I took her up on it, and very quickly we were making regular plans. I also took note of friendly faces at the gym, at the bookstore and at the park, and within a year I had more than a few people I could call in difficult times.
While everyone has different social needs—introverts may need vastly less social contact then more extroverted people, for example—Levine says we all need one or two close friends. Your health and success may depend upon it.