Friends are important – they give us a feeling of belonging, bring fun and laughter, lend an extra hand, offer emotional support, and give guidance when you need it. And, whether you realize it or not, their influence goes well beyond the moment. Your close friendships help to shape the course of your life.
Here are a few ways that friends significantly affect your life:
1. Friends affect the ways that you think and feel about yourself. How your friends think about and respond to you will, over time, have a strong influence on your perceptions of yourself. Back in 1999, a group of researchers found what they called the Michelangelo effect. That is, when you’re coupled with a partner who sees you, already, as the kind of person that you’d like to become, the relationship will have a positive influence on you because it helps you become more like your ideal self. You can also expect a similar effect from close friends. However, friends who treat you less favorably will likely have a negative affect on who you become. So, keep this in mind; choose your partner and friends wisely.
2. Friends influence each other’s personal preferences and lifestyles. When friends share music and see each other’s clothes or decorating, their tastes can rub off on each other. This influence might be relatively trivial, but it might also have a more significant impact. For instance, it can affect how you choose to spend your money, such as buying more things, going on more vacations, or saving for a rainy day. It can also affect how you spend your time, like choosing to do charitable work versus spending more time chilling out with a glass of wine. And friends can influence each other’s lifestyles, such as their eating habits and how they prioritize exercise. These kinds of decisions can directly affect your health and happiness.
3. Friendships in the present influence the nature of your friendships in the future. I have seen many people in psychotherapy whose willingness to be open to others was forever changed by the betrayal of a close friend. Similarly, when people spend time with friends who gossip a lot, they understandably tend to feel less trusting of others. On the other hand, I’ve also seen people who were wary of opening up to others, and who struggled with loneliness, feel uplifted and renewed by experiencing a loving relationship. So, while finding and keeping supportive friends is essential to being happy, it is also important to protect yourself from those who may ultimately leave you feeling alone and unsafe in the world.
4. A strong social network is associated with a healthier and longer life. Much research has shown that people with friends and supportive family are less stressed and are physically healthier. A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America re-affirmed that strong social connections often increase people’s lifespan.
Given the many different ways your friendships affect you, it’s important to be intentional when choosing friends. Does this person have qualities that you are looking for in a friend? How are they likely to influence you over the next one, five, or even ten years? And, is that where you want to be then? So, when you are making plans to get together with friends, consider whether those are the relationships – and that is the future – you want to build.
Entries for the Relationships blog are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.