According to recent research, people without friends die sooner than those with friends.
Emily Sohn summarizes the research in her Washington Post piece, “More and more research shows friends are good for your health“:
In a 2010 meta-analysis that combined data on more than 308,000 people across 148 studies, for example, researchers found a strong connection between social relationships and life span. The size of the effect rivaled that of better-known health-related behaviors such as smoking and exercise. . . .
[I]n a 2015 analysis that compiled data on more than 3.4 million people across 70 studies, [the same researchers] found that the absence of social connections carried the same health risk as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness led to worse outcomes than obesity. And the findings held true for people of all ages.
Thank goodness things have improved for me in this area since high school. Back then I felt lonely, which probably had a lot to do with the fact that I didn’t feel especially close to my friends. So after I graduated, I asked God to give me some good friends, and 20 years later, He’s still answering that prayer.
Since college I’ve had a solid group of guy friends, some of whom have come and gone, yet all of whom were meaningful to me during our season together. But when I think back on my friendships that have meant the most, there are a few things they’ve all had in common:
- They listen well. It’s pretty easy to find a friend who’s a talker — plenty of folks like to listen to the sound of their own voice. It’s another thing to find someone who listens well. My closest friends give me time to figure out what I’m trying to say and they show curiosity about the things I care about. For example, every time I share something that’s meaningful to me, my friend Aaron Damiani responds by restating it and asking if he heard me correctly. When he does this, it confirms that he values what I’m saying.
- Their relationship with God runs deep. My faith is the most important part of my life, so if I don’t have that in common with someone, my ability to connect to the person will be limited. My friends know the Lord, respect His Word, love His church, and live their lives in a way that reflects the sincerity of their love for Jesus. I don’t know anyone who loves Jesus quite like my friend Shon Cunningham. It’s hard to describe, but if you really get to know him, you get the impression that he’s actually met Jesus in person and still hangs out with Him every day. Friends like Shon keep me longing for and seeking out the real deal when it comes to my relationship with God.
- They’re not faking. My time is extremely limited these days, so I can only invest in a few friendships. And though this might sound a little cold, I don’t have time to pretend to have a close friendship with someone who only operates on the surface. I need people in my life like Tim Schultz who will pull back the curtain and be real about his work, marriage, or walk with Christ when I ask, “So how are you really doing?” Friendships like that require trust, and the trust only grows as we both become more real with each other.
- They reciprocate. Everybody’s busy and we all have good reasons for not investing in friendships. When I take the time to offer friendship to a person, it’s pretty discouraging if they don’t do the same. But I don’t have to worry about that with friends like Hall Barr. As busy as he often is, he makes every effort to get together with me for lunch on a regular basis. Friends like Hall keep things going even when I’m not doing a great job of keeping up.
- They tell me the truth. Like most people, sometimes I’m too proud to acknowledge my weaknesses — I’m not too proud, however, to ask my close friends to point them out. Over the years, close friends like Tom H. have lovingly told me the truth, even when it hurt, and they did so because they care about me. No characteristic of these friendships has played a bigger role in making me a better man (that’s especially true of Tom in the past year).
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that I didn’t meet these guys last year. I’ve known all of them for at least nine years, and our friendships have staying power because I also reciprocate, engage authentically, allow them to call me out, listen well (sometimes), and make Jesus the foundation of our friendship.
Although it takes a while to develop these kinds of relationships, I think all of us are capable of it — even with people we don’t initially like (cough, cough — Tim Schultz). Sure, it takes a long time and layers of trust, but if your experience is like mine, it will make your life far richer, regardless of whether it makes you live a little longer.