Most people count good friends among the most important people in their lives. Not all friends are good, though.
Good friends communicate openly. They usually don’t shy away from telling the truth, even when they think you may not like it. Still, they accept you for you — just as you accept them. You can trust them to respect your boundaries, even when you disagree with one another.
Healthy friendships also involve mutual support, so a good friend won’t just expect you to help them out. They also support you when they can — even if all they can offer is a listening ear.
The cherry on top? Solid friendship is also good for your health. Here’s how.
Loneliness and social isolation can affect mental and physical well-being, and more and more people are feeling lonely these days.
To understand the difference between these concerns, think of it this way: Friends help you avoid isolation, but good friends help prevent loneliness.
Ever heard the phrase “lonely in a crowd”? You can have plenty of friends and still feel lonely, even though you aren’t isolated.
It’s the relationship quality that really counts. Casual or superficial friendships often don’t provide much in the way of emotional support. You might have gaming buddies, coffee friends, or exercise partners, but if you don’t have anyone to confide in, you’ll likely experience some loneliness.
On the other hand, even a few close friends can help you avoid loneliness. And when you do feel lonely, you know you can address it by reaching out to talk, joke, or spend time with a friend.
Distance and other factors might prevent you from physically hanging out, but simply knowing you share a strong connection can help you feel less alone.
Everyone faces some stress. It can come in large or small doses, but no matter how minor it seems at first, it can quickly pile up and overwhelm you.
Prolonged stress can contribute to:
There’s some good news, though.
Researchsuggests maintaining strong friendships can help you cope with stress more effectively and help lower your chances of facing some types of stress in the first place.
Think back to the last time you felt upset or worried about something. Maybe you mentioned your concerns to a friend who listened to you vent and helped you brainstorm solutions.
If you know you have friends who care and want to help, potential stressors often don’t have the chance to build up and cause significant distress.
Emotional support is an important benefit of relationships.
Your friends might support you by:
- listening — really listening — to your problems
- validating your feelings
- doing nice things for you just because
- helping distract you when you feel sad or upset
If you have a romantic relationship, you might go to your partner first. This is perfectly normal, and romantic partners can absolutely offer comfort and reassurance. However, they shouldn’t be your only source of emotional support.
Relationship experts generally recommend maintaining friendships with people besides your partner, as this can benefit emotional health alongside relationship health.
When you and your partner disagree or want to spend time on different hobbies, friends who share your interests can help you maintain your sense of self.
If you want to create positive change in your life or have a habit you want to break, friends can help you maintain your resolve to practice healthier habits. This may be one reason why strong friendships can lengthen your life.
One way friends can help you change for the better is by providing good examples. Maybe your best friend’s recent decision to give up smoking inspires you to quit, too.
Your friends might also support your choices by making changes with you. If you want to join a gym or start running, for example, having an exercise buddy can encourage you to stick with it until it becomes part of your routine.
No matter what else they do, they’ll probably cheer you on. This encouragement can boost your self-confidence, increasing your chances of success with your goals.
We all want to know we matter to others — that our life has purpose. In fact, belonging needs come in third on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, just after basic needs (think food and shelter) and safety needs.
Developing and maintaining close friendships helps foster feelings of belonging.
Caring about others makes life more meaningful. When you care for others, you take on the responsibility of offering compassion and emotional support. This can make you a stronger, better person.
At the same time, knowing you have a support network can help you feel more secure in your own life.
Even when your friends are scattered over several cities, states, or even countries, you still have those connections to trusted friends who have your back.
Life isn’t always easy. Sometimes, it can get downright awful.
At any given time, without warning, you might face traumatic or difficult events that affect emotional well-being, such as:
Any of these challenges can have a significant impact on long-term mental health outcomes. However, 2017 research suggests that if you have strong friendships, you’ll probably find it easier to handle whatever life throws at you.
This study, which looked at resilience in more than 2,000 adolescents between the ages of 14 and 24, found evidence to suggest friendship strongly predicted resilience, or the ability to recover after distressing experiences.
Study authors noted that while family support also helped boost immediate resilience, friendship predicted greater resilience later in life, while family support did not.
Now that you know more about the benefits of strong friendships, you might wonder how to go about finding (and keeping) good friends.
Developing and maintaining friendships is often easier said than done, especially in adulthood when the demands of daily life keep you busy. These tips can help.
Pursue your interests
While it’s not necessary for friends to like all the same things, some common ground can help provide a foundation for friendship.
Finding new friends can often be as simple as spending time doing things you enjoy, whether that’s by joining a hiking club, taking an art class, or attending programs at your local library.
If your current hobbies don’t involve much socialization, consider a new hobby that provides the opportunity to meet new people.
Make the first move
Consider your recent interactions with others. Maybe there’s a co-worker you always chat with at lunch, or another parent you keep running into at the playground. They might make a great friend, but you won’t know for sure until you spend more time together.
Extending an invitation can feel a little scary, especially if you fear rejection. But if they feel nervous, too, your friendship may never get off the ground.
Keep your invitation simple and casual. You can always ask if they’d like to grab coffee or mention something you’ve both expressed interest in:
- “You know that book signing we were talking about the other day? Why don’t we go together?”
- “I heard there’s a new Vietnamese restaurant opening up downtown. Want to get lunch there next week?”
Find more tips on getting to know people here.
Stay in touch
Once you build a friendship, you’ll need to make an effort to keep it alive:
- Reach out to make plans instead of letting them do all the work.
- Call or text from time to time, even if it’s just to share a joke or ask how they’re doing.
- When you ask questions, listen to their answers.
- Check in if you know they’re struggling.
- Share your own struggles when they ask — this helps deepen the bond on both sides.
Find tips on improving communication in friendships and other relationships here.
If you find it difficult to keep up multiple friendships, consider focusing on the ones that really matter to you. Many people lack the time and emotional energy to nurture numerous close friendships.
At the end of the day, the number of friends you have matters far less than the quality of those relationships. You don’t need to have a specific number of friends to see benefits. Even a few close friendships can make plenty of difference in your well-being.
Know when to let go
Unhealthy or toxic friendships can cause stress and bring you down just as easily as healthy friendships lift you up.
You may want to consider moving on if your friend:
- treats you unkindly
- manipulates you
- takes without giving
- doesn’t seem to care much about your feelings
Find more signs of toxic friendships and tips on how to cope here.
Good friends are important at every stage in life.
Some things about your friendship may change over time as you grow and change as individuals.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.