With life being so busy, you may wonder, is it necessary to have friends? Moreover, if you struggle with making connections, you may doubt whether friendships are worth the effort.
Some of us are naturally more social than others, but most of us want at least a couple of friends in our lives. In this article, we’ll look at the benefits of friendship. We’ll also consider what makes a good friend, why we need friends, how to improve your friendships, and how to expand your social circle.
Why are friends so important?
Having friends can improve your physical and mental health, and a good social life can increase your lifespan. Friends are an important source of support during difficult times and help you deal with stress.
How many friends do you need?
How many friends you need to be happy depends on personal preference. Some people like to have a large social circle and many friends. At the other end of the scale, others prefer a few close friends, or even no friends at all. Most American adults don’t have many close friends; 49% say they have three or fewer. 12% have none.
- What are the benefits of friends?
- What makes a good friendship?
- Toxic behaviors to avoid in a friendship
- How to improve your friendships
- How to make and find new friends
- Common questions
What are the benefits of friends?
Hanging out with friends is fun, but good friendships offer lots of other benefits too. Here are 8 ways friends can make your life better.
1. Friends can improve your mental health
When life is challenging, good friendships can help you deal with stress, which in turn can lower your risk of anxiety and depression. Close friendships can also increase your overall happiness, give you a sense of belonging, and improve your self-esteem.
2. Friends give each other help and support
Good friends can help out in many different ways.
Specifically, friends can offer:
- Emotional support (e.g., validating your feelings and listening to your problems)
- Informational support (e.g., advice and suggestions to help you solve a problem)
- Practical support (e.g., giving you a ride to a doctor’s appointment or helping you move house)
3. Friends can make work more enjoyable
Having a friend at work can improve your productivity, boost your well-being, and help you feel more engaged with your job. Coworker friendships can also advance your career. For example, if you are friends with a coworker, they might be more likely to tell you about potential job opportunities they’ve heard about.
4. Friends can help you make positive changes
Friends can motivate you to adopt healthier habits. For example, if your friend has decided to cut back on their alcohol intake, you might feel inspired to do the same. Making changes together can be easier than doing it alone. For instance, you and your friend might be more likely to work out regularly if you decide on a regular day and time to meet at the gym.
5. Friends can challenge your prejudices
The more contact you have with people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, the more likely you are to see people as individuals rather than stereotypes.
People tend to make friends who are similar to them but try keeping an open mind. Do not assume that someone won’t want to be your friend just because they are very different to you.
Research shows that your friends’ attitudes to other groups might also influence your views. This means that if your friends are unprejudiced and accepting of different groups, you may become more open-minded too.
6. Friendships protect you against loneliness
Loneliness and social isolation increase your risk of premature death. Healthy relationships with friends can help you feel less lonely and therefore could improve your longevity.
7. Friends can help you adjust to change
Friends can make major lifestyle changes, such as starting school, getting a new job, or becoming a parent, feel less daunting. It can help to have friends in a similar position who understand how you are feeling. For example, research has shown the importance of friends in student life. Students who make friends in their first year of study are more likely to successfully adjust to college.
8. Friends can protect you from dementia
One of the social health benefits of friendship is a reduced chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Feeling lonely and being deprived of social contact are risk factors for dementia. For most older people, social connections such as friendships are important for brain health.
What makes a good friendship?
Friends can make your life much better, but only if your friendships are healthy and balanced. Here are the essential ingredients of a good friendship.
- Trust: You can trust a true friend to tell you the truth, even when it’s difficult to hear, and to keep private information to themselves.
- Commitment: In a good friendship, both people make an effort to keep their bond strong. This means reaching out regularly, taking an interest in one another, and making time to meet up or talk. Commitment to a friendship also means being willing to talk about problems and work through disagreements.
- Interest: Friends are genuinely interested in each other’s lives. In a good friendship, both people ask questions about the other person’s thoughts, feelings, jobs, studies, hobbies, hopes, and dreams. They remember important dates and milestones.
- Disclosure: Friends open up to one another, which creates a sense of closeness.
- Acceptance: You should not have to feel as though you’re “putting on an act” or hiding your true self when you’re around friends. Real friends do not try to change who you are.
- Respect: Friends do not take advantage of each other, put each other down, or belittle each others’ views. They value and appreciate diversity and difference. Read here for signs your friend doesn’t respect you.
- Support: Good friends offer each other emotional and practical support. A friend should be happy when things are going well in your life. If they feel jealous or inferior to you, they should recognize that it’s their responsibility to deal with these feelings; they don’t put you down to make themselves feel better.
- An ability to understand each other’s point of view: Friends don’t always have to agree. But they should be willing to try seeing the world from each other’s point of view and accept differences in opinion.
- Fun: Friendship should enrich your life. Good friends look forward to spending time together.
We have an in-depth guide on what makes a true friend.
Toxic behaviors to avoid in a friendship
Strong friendships are based on mutual trust and respect. Here are some common toxic behaviors that can undermine your friendships and how to avoid them. You might also find our article on the signs of a toxic friendship helpful.
1. Trying to change your friends
Your friends are individuals with the right to make their own choices. Pressuring a friend to change to suit your preferences or to fall in line with your opinions is toxic behavior. If you aren’t sure why a friend thinks or acts in a certain way, try asking respectful questions that will help you understand their point of view.
2. Taking more help than you give
Giving and getting help is part of being a friend, but try to keep your friendships balanced. It doesn’t have to be exactly 50:50, but if you ask for help or support, try to return it. For example, it’s OK to tell a friend about your problems and ask for advice. But if you have a lot of one-sided conversations, your friend may feel that you are taking advantage of them.
3. Refusing to apologize
If your friend says they’ve been hurt by something you did or said, try not to become defensive. Instead, listen carefully and try to understand why your friend feels upset. Apologize and, if necessary, let them know what you’ll do differently in the future so that it doesn’t happen again.
4. Passive-aggressive behavior
Do not assume your friend can or should read your mind. Instead of hoping that your friend will pick up on hints, try talking honestly about your thoughts and feelings. Our guide on how to be honest with friends may help if you aren’t sure how to raise an issue.
5. Ignoring your friend’s boundaries
Boundaries represent what is and isn’t OK in relationships. You may not always understand your friend’s boundaries, but you should still respect them. For example, if you like to hug your friends, it may seem strange to you when someone says they don’t like any physical contact, but you should still honor that boundary.
6. Possessive behavior
Lots of people feel friendship jealousy from time to time, but clingy or possessive behavior can become toxic if it makes your friend feel stifled or annoyed. If you call or message your friend much more frequently than they contact you, it may be time to give them some space. If you only have one or two friends, it can also help to grow your social circle so that you don’t have to rely on a couple of people to meet your social needs.
How to improve your friendships
Like any relationship, a friendship requires ongoing care and attention. Here’s how to nurture your friendships and keep them strong.
1. Don’t take your friends for granted
Show your friends that you appreciate them and the time you spend together. If your friends feel as though you are taking them for granted, they might become resentful, which can cause tension in your friendship.
- Take time to reach out. If it’s been a while since you last spoke, call your friends or send them a text. Don’t make them do all the work to keep your friendship going.
- When your friends help you out, thank them. If they do you a big favor, you could write them a note or give them a small gift to show your appreciation.
- Take responsibility for your actions. Don’t assume that your friend will automatically forgive you or that they should overlook any problems between you just because you are friends. Be ready to say “sorry” when necessary.
2. Open up to your friends
If you and your friends only talk about superficial topics, you might miss out on the opportunity to deepen your bond. Allow yourself to share personal things about yourself and encourage your friends to share too.
If you find it hard to open up to people, start by sharing slightly personal things such as your favorite movies or what kind of job you wanted to do as a child. You can gradually move on to more personal topics, such as your ambitions, fears, and political views. We have an article on how to open up to people that you might find useful.
3. Suggest new activities to try together
It’s easy to fall into a rut with your friends. If you do the same things all the time, your friendship might start to feel boring. Think of a new place to go or a new hobby to try. Even if you and your friends don’t enjoy it, you’ll have new things to talk about and more memories to look back on later.
For inspiration, check out this guide: What do people do?
4. Know and communicate your boundaries
Stating and upholding your boundaries can improve a friendship because you both know what to expect from each other.
For example, let’s say you have a simple boundary when it comes to lending people money: you never do it. If your friend asks you for a loan, you could say, “Sorry, I don’t lend money to people.” Direct communication isn’t always easy, but it lets everyone know where they stand, which can reduce misunderstandings and arguments.
Read this article if you find it hard to uphold boundaries: how to set boundaries with friends.
How to make and find new friends
If you want to expand your social circle, try these strategies to meet new people and turn them into friends.
Our guide on how to make friends contains lots more practical advice on this topic.
1. Look for like-minded people
It’s often easier to talk and connect with people who share your hobbies, interests, or outlook.
To find like-minded people, you could:
- Search for groups on Meetup and Eventbrite. Look for ongoing meetups that give you the chance to hang out with the same people every week.
- Go to classes at your local community college or adult learning center
- Join a volunteer organization
- Join a political party
- Join a local neighbor committee or homeowners’ association
2. Practice making small talk
Making small talk might seem boring or pointless, but it’s a key social skill that will help you make new friends. Casual conversation builds rapport that can grow into friendship. When you make small talk with someone, you are signaling that you understand the basic rules of social interaction and that you are friendly.
It can help to think of small talk as the first stage of getting to know someone. As you become more comfortable with them, you can have more interesting, personal discussions.
Try practicing your small talk skills whenever you get an opportunity. For example, you could ask a coworker about their weekend or compliment your neighbor’s garden and ask them if they’ve always been a keen gardener. Read our tips to make small talk and our article on what to do if you hate small talk for more advice.
3. Exchange contact details with people you like
When you meet someone you click with, ask them for contact information. You could suggest swapping phone numbers or social media details, depending on which feels most appropriate.
- “This has been really fun. Let’s swap numbers and stay in touch.”
- “It’s great to meet another Dalmatian owner, there aren’t many of us around. Can I give you my number? Maybe we could meet up for a walk sometime.”
- “Are you on Instagram? I’m [your handle].”
4. Ask people to hang out
Follow up with a new acquaintance within a couple of days. Send them a message that relates to a shared interest or hobby. For example, you could send them a link to a video or article that they might enjoy.
If your conversation goes well, ask them to hang out. Choose an activity that you think or know they’ll like. Ideally, it should relate to one of your shared interests.
- [To someone you met at a cookery class]: “I was thinking of checking out the new farmer’s market on Saturday afternoon. Would you like to come with me?”
- [To someone you met at an improv group]: “There’s a comedy open mic at [local venue] this Thursday evening. I’m going with a couple of friends. Would you like to go with us?”
You might find our guide on how to ask someone to hang out without being awkward helpful.
5. Try getting to know your acquaintances
You may already know some people who could become friends. Consider making an effort to talk to them more often or inviting them to spend time with you. For example, if you have a friendly colleague, you could try starting a conversation with them the next time you are in the break room. Or if you sometimes make small talk with your neighbor, you could invite them over for a coffee.
This article on how to make close friends can be helpful if you want to develop closer friendships.
What is having a best friend like?
For most people, a best friend is someone they trust, like hanging out with, feel close to, and can rely on for help. Having a best friend can make life less stressful because you know there is at least one person who will support you. It also makes life fun because you enjoy each other’s company.
Are there negative effects of friendship?
Respectful, balanced friendships are good for you. However, toxic friendships can have negative effects. For instance, a friend who bullies you can raise your stress levels. Friends can also encourage bad habits. For example, if they are heavy drinkers, you may feel pressured to drink too.
Do I need friends to be happy?
It is possible to be happy without friends. Some people are content with very little social contact or to socialize with family, partner(s), coworkers, or acquaintances instead. But for most people, friendships are an important and enjoyable part of life.