Our good friends are those special people who choose us as their family. They can easily leave our lives and yet they don’t. That’s such a powerful message for your self-esteem.
They are also, often, the people we can be our true selves with because they don’t necessarily have us imprisoned in the notions they carry about us since our younger days, something that can prove to be more difficult with siblings.
Friends can more easily see our evolution or are more easily able to digest our evolution.
And whilst warm sibling relationships can be massively beneficial to our mental health and wellbeing , if the sibling relationship is poor, it can lead to poor mental health .
As we can more easily pause or prune unhealthy friendships, the healthy friendships we keep around can be a core part of our happiness and health.
So how easily do our friends boost our wellbeing?
Friendship and wellbeing research
Friendship research by Hall et al. (2023) tested the effects of several different communication episodes . Over three studies they tested seven different communication styles in each study with the exception of Study 1 in which they tested an additional one.
Here are the seven communication episodes/behaviours they tested over each of the three studies with the instruction provided for each condition:
- Catching up – ‘Today, we would like you to slow down and take time to catch up with a friend.’
- Meaningful talk – ‘Today, we would like you to talk about something meaningful to you with a friend.’
- Joking around – ‘Today, we would like you to not get too serious, just have a laugh with a friend.’
- Show care – ‘Today, we would like you to let your friends know how much you care about them.’
- Listen – ‘Today, we would like you to listen carefully to your friends when they speak.’
- Value others and their opinions – ‘Today, we would like you to make your friends feel like you value them and their opinions.’
- Sincere compliments – ‘Today, we would like you to offer your friends sincere compliments when you speak with them.’
The control group’s instruction:
- ‘Today, we would like you to act as you normally do with your friends.’
Later that evening, participants completed a survey that measured their wellbeing.
Quality conversation with friends boosted wellbeing in a few ways
The researchers found that just one quality communication with a friend, increased wellbeing by the end of the day. This happened in a number of ways, including increasing feelings of connection and happiness, and decreasing feelings of stress and anxiety and loneliness.
They also found that even though just one quality communication episode improved wellbeing, the more frequently those quality communications happened, the greater the benefits, and that face-to-face communication episodes produced even greater wellbeing effects by the end of the day.
The most surprising effect of the study?
I asked the lead researcher, Jeffrey Hall of the University of Kansas:
‘What was the most surprising finding for you, personally?’
Jeffrey Hall replied:
‘The most surprising finding was how little variation there was between types of conversations. We were fully expecting that some conversations like joking around with friends would matter more for positive than negative daily outcomes (like positive affect rather than stress) but we found that all 7 worked equally well compared to control groups and compared to one another.’
That says a lot about the power of a good friend.
So it really may not be about the content of the conversation, but the mere act of having a quality conversation with a friend that is so wonderfully helpful.
And if you notice, the participants weren’t instructed to avoid any particular topics or to discuss any particular topics. That’s very telling. It really is about connecting with another human being, one who is a supporter of us and our life.
That means that when you need a pick-me-up, you can get in touch with a friend, over the phone or face-to-face, and just have a good conversation. You don’t have to worry about what you’re going to discuss; just connect, and go with the flow. Your mental wellbeing will likely reap rewards whatever you end up discussing, so long as the friend is a real friend (not a frenemy) and you connect sincerely.
Friends are powerful
Nurture those good friendships in your life, they are a sort of lifeline. And if you don’t currently have any, consider getting out and doing activities or volunteering somewhere so that you can make some new friends. They don’t have to become one of your best friends, just healthy friendships to surround yourself with. It may be just the thing that you need and that they need.
1. Stocker, C. M., Gilligan, M., Klopack, E. T., Conger, K. J., Lanthier, R. P., Neppl, T. K., O’Neal, C. W., & Wickrama, K. A. S. (2020). Sibling relationships in older adulthood: Links with loneliness and well-being. Journal of Family Psychology : JFP : journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43), 34(2), 175–185. https://doi.org/10.1037/fam0000586
2. Waldinger, R. J., Vaillant, G. E., & Orav, E. J. (2007). Childhood sibling relationships as a predictor of major depression in adulthood: a 30-year prospective study. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 164(6), 949–954. https://doi.org/10.1176/ajp.2007.164.6.949
3. Hall, J. A., Holmstrom, A. J., Pennington, N., Perrault, E. K., & Totzkay, D. (2023). Quality Conversation Can Increase Daily Well-Being. Communication Research, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/00936502221139363
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