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The Relationships That Matter Most

by Beth on August 8th, 2022

You probably know that relationships are one of most important factors for well-being. What you might not know is the kind of relationship that matters most for our happiness: friendships!

In his new book, Plays Well With Others, Eric Barker explains why friends are so essential to happiness. Our relationships with our friends are voluntary, which also makes them extremely fragile. There is no contract or bloodline binding us to our friends. We choose our friends precisely because they make us happy. You can stop liking your colleagues, your spouse, or your children. But if you stop liking your friends, you stop seeing them.

According to Barker, the two keys to maintaining a friendship are time and vulnerability.

  • Time is scarce. When you make time for someone, it sends a big signal that they mean something to you. Recent research involving nearly 6,000 participants found that people underestimated how much reaching out to a friend would be appreciated. A quick call or text to say hello means more than we think. Notre Dame researchers analyzed over 8 million phone calls and concluded that a relationship was more likely to persist when a friend’s call was returned within two weeks.
  • Vulnerability is opening up by sharing your fears and concerns. Talking about your weaknesses, what you are struggling with, and what you are afraid of builds trust. It’s how you really get to know each other. Feeling that you’re known is the foundation of a satisfying relationship. And the better you understand someone, the more you can support them.

Friends aren’t only important for our happiness; they are also good for our health. Oxford professor Robin Dunbar discovered two factors that predict if you will be alive one year after a heart attack: whether you smoke and how many friends you have. Another study by researchers at Duke University Medical Center found that patients with heart disease who had fewer than four friends were more than twice as likely to die.

It may surprise you that friends matter more for your happiness and health than your spouse. But it turns out that friendship is the most critical part of a marriage. Gallup researchers concluded that friendship quality accounts for 70% of marriage satisfaction.

Having friends is important, but having a community is even better. People feel more support from friends who are connected to one another. We belong to fewer communities today than in the past. One way to build a community is to introduce your friends to each other. You could host a gathering at your home or organize a book club.

It takes work to maintain friendships. You must make the time, reach out, and be vulnerable, but it’s worth the effort! In his book about regrets, Dan Pink reports that one of the top regrets is letting good friends drift away by not staying in touch. Working to build and sustain friendships will benefit your health and your happiness.

  1. Suzy Howell permalink

    Boy, Beth, did this essay hit home! Such important advice for everyone, but especially, I think, for a time when one has lost the most important person in their life after decades of marriage. The death of a life partner is an enormous blow, even if expected, and support from a community of good friends is critical to navigating the loss. Thank you for the reminder that we always need to make the effort to nurture friendships. Suzy

  2. Beth permalink

    Thank you for your comment, Suzy. I am so sorry for you loss. And I agree that friendships can be even more important when you lose a spouse. All my best!

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