Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Friendship is a love of choice. We are not born into it or bound to it by blood. We laugh and cry with friends. We confide in friends. We go to war with friends by our side. We seek out friends in times of joy and they come to us in moments of trouble.
How Many Friends Do You Have?
If you’ve ever thought that your friends have more friends than you, you’re probably right. Feld’s friendship paradox states that for most of us, on average, our friends have more friends than we do. This is the case because popular people are overrepresented when averaging across groups of friends. This phenomenon is dramatically illustrated on social media platforms. Hodas et al. (2013) found that the Feld friendship paradox rang true for more than 98% of Twitter users. Because the average Twitter user will follow celebrities, athletes, and popular friends who have huge followings, the size of the average user’s social network will be much smaller than the size of the average social network of the people they follow. This means that when we are trying to decide how likable we are, we should put little value in the comparative size of our social network; chances are, we are just not one of the rare popular people who have a huge group of friends.
Friendship is Good for You
Friendship is good for our health. The health benefits of friendship are primarily linked to the social support we receive from our friends. In the context of relationship science, social support most often refers to assistance, encouragement, and resources given to others that promote health and well-being. For example, a friend who encourages another friend to exercise is providing social support, a friend who encourages another friend to smoke or drink too much is not. In a review of the literature, Uchino (2009) found that social support received from friends and others has been linked to lower mortality rates, healthier diet, and a greater sense of well-being. When friends give good advice and try to help each other in ways that are not too pushy or controlling, they have a powerful and positive influence on one another’s health.
People most often become friends when they have regular contact with one another and they have overlapping interests. Although the same can be said of many acquaintances, what distinguishes our friendships is the level of intimacy and closeness in the relationship. The intimacy that makes a friendship strong and healthy must be established and maintained with considerable investments of time and energy.
The good news is that there appears to be friends out there for anyone who puts forth the effort to make them. Making friends just takes time and a willingness to get to know someone. In today’s internet age, finding friends is easier than ever (Amichai-Hamburger et al., 2013). No matter who you are or what you do, there is reason to hope that you will find others who like you and share your interests. For example, conducting online searches of niche hobbies such as restoring electric generators and soap making brings up videos with tens of thousands of views and comment streams filled with people ready to talk about their unsung interests. In a world with over 7 billion people, even relatively obscure tastes are shared by thousands. Of course, online friendships lack face-to-face companionship, and life circumstances such as moving to a new city or changing schools can negatively affect intimacy, but these barriers tend to be temporary for those who put the effort into building and maintaining strong relationships with friends.
What Kind of Friend are You?
Friendships will be as strong as the foundation they are built on. When friends are honest, trustworthy, loyal, and supportive (i.e., they encourage one another to make healthy choices), the friendship thrives. The friendship suffers if we leave out any of these qualities. For example, friendships may be high in trust, loyalty, and honesty but low on support; this would be the case for friends who spend a lot of time together doing very unhealthy things like doing drugs, getting into fights, and encouraging promiscuous sex. If we love our friends, we need to do our best to base our friendship on those values that will sustain and strengthen it over a lifetime.
Next week I will not be publishing a blog post. A dear friend is getting married and we are going to get together and celebrate.