The songs “You’ve Got a Friend” by Carol King, Barbra Streisand’s “People…who need people,” and Joe Cocker’s “With a little help from my friends,” express the critical roles good friends play our lives.
Like many of you, some of my oldest close friends have been an important part of my life over decades.
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As attested by that old adage, “We choose our friends, not our family,” meaning that the personal and positive nature of friendship is voluntary. We are a social species and we need that sense of “Belonging,” of feeling deeply appreciated by people we care for. Meaningful, long-term friendships are cherished.
Intimate friends share each other’s experiences and in some ways they inhabit each other’s lives. They often have similar viewpoints and values, and they may share similar backgrounds and traditions. They witness the milestones and unexpected changes of life, the highs and lows, celebrations and sadness.
People without friends often experience the vulnerability of loneliness, that poignant state which many of us have felt at some point.
Friendships first develop during childhood, when youngsters learn to interact with others. They learn how to agree and disagree, to exchange meaningful words and gestures, to accommodate to others’ temperaments, and to make friends. These early skills are foundations for later friendships.
Friends exchange caring, celebration and solace. When people feel blue, they often reach out to old friends for support and counsel. But in times of deep depression, they might avoid human contact, either out of lack of energy or thinking they are unworthy. They withdraw when they are most in need of the support from caring others.
A key finding from a major study of adults’ lives was that those who had close, long-term friends fared better than those who were less social. Close friendships enhanced moods and functioning as well as emotional and physical health.