Two years ago, I headed to Miami to spend a week with my friend Susanna on a rare child-free vacation just for me. I had been away from my husband and the kids only a handful of times in the past nine years, usually for business, so this girls’ getaway was a big deal for me. And even though Susanna and I are very close, we hadn’t had much time alone together since I had kids. We were giggling like teenagers from the moment I walked into her art deco apartment in the heart of South Beach.
Hanging out with Susanna was like a flashback to a time in my life I could barely remember — a time before children when I never had to look at the clock and could eat and sleep whenever I wanted to. She and I were both taking five days off work, and without kids or husbands to take care of, we were completely free.
She zipped us around South Beach on her Vespa. We lay on the beach for hours. We got dressed up and went to see Wicked at the Miami Opera House. We ate whatever we wanted at odd hours, stayed up talking until 4 in the morning, and slept until noon. And we laughed the entire time. In fact, my face hurt from laughing so much.
With friends like Susanna, I can go years without seeing them and when we get together again, we just pick up right where we left off as if no time has passed at all. I am blessed to have a number of friendships like this in my life.
These women help me keep a healthy perspective about my marriage and make me a better wife. They give me comic relief and a reality check when I’m struggling with the complexities of parenthood and make me a better mother.
They inspire me with their brilliance, courage, and kindness and make me a better person. And the thing I find most amazing about my friends is that my issues — the ups and downs of my life — are as interesting to them as they are to me. They genuinely care about what’s happening with me and want the best for me, and I feel the same way about them.
It’s quite incredible when you think about it: Friends are often people whom we meet by chance. I’ve met some of my closest friends at a random party, a business event, a birth class, and in Susanna’s case, on a farm in Australia when we were both travelers there.
And these people become intricately woven into our lives. They have complete buy-in on our joy; they might even want it more than we do. They cheer for us when we’re down, make us laugh, and remind us of how competent and creative we are when we forget. Friends are the family we choose, and I count my lucky stars every day for mine.
There are numerous health benefits of having close friends. People with close friends are 50% more likely to outlive those who don’t. In fact, close friendships increase life expectancy as much as quitting smoking and even more than regular exercise or maintaining a healthy weight.
In a study at the University College London, college students who reported having close friends were 50% less likely to catch the common cold than their peers who reported not having close friends, when all subjects had the same exposure to the virus. In another study, when subjects were placed in a stressful situation, they rated their self-worth higher and produced less cortisol when a close friend was present.
Other studies have confirmed that regular contact with friends makes us happier. In fact, findings indicate that people are 12 times more likely to feel happy on days they spend with friends. Studies have also confirmed what we all know: that a quick chat with an upbeat friend significantly increases our own optimism and reduces stress.
I didn’t need science to tell me how important my friendships were, but I did realize after spending a week with Susanna that I should make time for getaways like that more often. That trip provided a huge infusion of joy into my life. I laughed more in that week than I had all year, and I knew that was good for my mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
This post is excerpted from The Joy Plan: How I Took 30 Days to Stop Worrying, Quit Complaining, and Find Ridiculous Happiness. Available everywhere books are sold July 11. Pre-order on Amazon.