Thursday 6 March 2014

Reflections on friendship

Friendship isn't much talked about as a stress management technique, but it's hugely important, and much more so than many people realise. I'm sure that's true for both sexes but perhaps especially for men, who otherwise can't (or won't) access the social support they need.

I read a great book a few years back called Aging Well (for British readers, those sensible Americans have removed the 'e' from 'ageing' rightly deeming it unnecessary). Its by a doctor called George Vaillant, who sets out the surprising evidence from longitudinal research about what predicts (and does not predict) healthy ageing.

There's one thing that's always stuck with me from that book and it was surprising. The two factors that best predicted wellbeing (in the full, holistic sense of wellbeing) into very old age were time spent with friends and membership of organisations. If you don't want to be a grumpy, embittered old man, keeping up with your friends and communal, meaningful activities appear to be essential.

Friendship, real friendship, and I don't mean acquaintanceship, is remarkably resilient. It's amazing how a single phone call after years without contact it can rekindle a close friendship. But you/they have to make that call. Facebook, email or text is not the same (in my experience they can potentially harm friendships). I've known friendship overcome sometime big setbacks, hurt and false assumptions, including the ones that I've wrongly made. Friendships that I thought were dead were in fact alive and kicking.

It's partly what you can talk about with friends, which is anything. And the nature of those conversations is different. You can laugh openly with friends about the comedy and tragedy that is your life. What a relief it is to be able to do that!

You also tend to do stuff and play stuff with friends. It gets you out more. Drinking is social rather than solitary. You can help and support friends, which makes you feel good.

Yes, friendship is sometimes a pain in the rear end. Friends can sometimes piss you off (and you them!). It takes work and is an investment, and you know the disclaimer about investments, right? But the pain and hassle is definitely worth it.

Call a friend today that you haven't been in touch with for a while. Don't email or text, just pick up the phone and call. You'll be glad you did and so will they.

(Sometimes the old technologies work best.)