We think we know the keys to a long life — eating right, exercise, sleep, and all that. But there is one thing that leads to a long life that we probably don’t consider: Friendship.
Friendship, on any level, is the true key to living a longer, healthier life. Science says so.
In a recent TED talk, psychologist Susan Pinker discussed a study that found that close friendships and social interaction were bigger factors in extending the longevity of a person’s life — even more than exercise, diet, hypertension, smoking, and getting a flu shot. The results are interesting, no doubt, but not all that surprising.
And if you think about it, it totally makes sense. Of course, we absolutely must take care of our physical health, but we must also take care of our mental health. And being around your besties is totally good for your mental health.
When you’re having a hard time, who do you usually reach out to? Or who do you want to share good news with? Your friends. Friends are usually the people who understand us on the deepest level. So often, we put more effort into our friendships than we do into our familial, or even romantic relationships. Friendships are carefully cultivated relationships, and we take pride in the fruits of that labor. Our friends usually know us better than we know ourselves most of the time, so naturally, they will know what it takes to make us feel better.
When I need brutal honesty, I always turn to my best friend. She has no problem telling me the truth, even if it’s something I don’t want to hear. I may resent it in that exact moment, but when I’ve had time to really sit with what she said and think about it, she’s always fucking right. I kinda hate her for it, but that’s also why she’s my best friend. I need someone who knows when I’m fucking up and feels comfortable enough to tell me. Best friends are the friends who will be there for us when all of the chips are down. If we end up in jail, they’ll be there with the bail money. Or they may be next to us, coming up with a plan to charm our way out.
But social interaction with others, even if they’re not close friends, is the number one factor in living a longer life. This applies to those superficial relationships that you engage in, but don’t pay all that much attention to. But here’s the kicker: these interactions need to be face-to-face to be truly beneficial.
Whether it’s the barista who knows your coffee order without asking you or the grocery store cashier whose line you always find yourself in or the next door neighbor you wave at every morning on your way to work, these face-to-face social interactions make a huge difference. These are the relationships we probably don’t put much stock in, since they’re often so random and insignificant, but even something as simple as saying “good afternoon” to the mail carrier a couple times a week makes a huge difference to our overall health. Reach out to that friend you’ve been meaning to email for weeks. Maybe try to grab coffee with an old friend and catch up.
Not that we need an excuse to binge on chocolate while sipping wine and gossiping with our friends, but how great is it that we have one? Think of it as doctor’s orders.
Without close relationships (and you don’t have to have many; it only takes one), we are doing ourselves a great disservice. We need a person (or multiple people) to be there for us at different stages of our lives. If we’re lucky, we can find people who will be there for us throughout all the stages of our lives, but they are so hard to find. Having friends who will be our cheerleaders when we’re feeling down, or celebrate with us when things are going well, make all the difference.
We need non-romantic partners in life who can understand everything we’re saying without us always having to state it explicitly. There’s always that friend who can hear (or see) you sigh and know what that sigh means. They know to show up at your doorstep with chocolate and pizza without you even having to ask. They’re the one you ask to be with you on the big days of your life.
Best friends make the world go ‘round, and they are our lifesavers. Literally.