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The Health Benefits of Friendship
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, August 2012

We know that the most meaningful friendships are often reciprocal relationships. You're there for them and they're there for you in times of need, loneliness, life milestones, celebrations, and defeats. It's important to rely on our friends - and have our friends rely on us - to help us tackle major challenges and changes and serve as our support systems. Without them, "getting through" would be so much more difficult.

We know close relationships are important in many ways but what most people do not realize is how good they are for our health. Friends increase our sense of belonging and purpose. They boost our happiness and can reduce the negative effects of stress. Good friends also improve our self-worth, helping us to feel good about ourselves; very often encouraging us to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, particularly, addictions.

For many of us, making friends and maintaining friendships can prove challenging. Other elements of our lives such as work and family take priority. A friend may move far away and the ease with which we connect diminishes. We may move to a new community and resist meeting new people. It is important to remember that developing and maintaining good relationships takes time and effort, but the investment is definitely worth it.

There are several ways to make new connections and the easiest and most effective is to consider what you like to do and be open to meeting people who are interested in doing similar things. Is it knitting? Traveling? Hiking? Reading? Pet rescue? Music or Dance? Whatever it is, when you participate in a group or club that focuses on your interest, you will meet people, some of whom have a high probability to becoming friends. Volunteer, and/or join a faith-based community. Enroll in a class at your local college or library. In addition, find ways to "reconnect" with old friends on the internet and browse some of the "meet up" sites with those who share your hobbies, interests, or sensibilities.

By taking the initiative to meet and connect with like-minded people, we increase our opportunities for forming and maintaining friendships that will sustain us with people who accept us for who we are. We will also feel gratified when our friends seek our counsel and we can be there for them as they face challenges. Look at the people with whom you spend your time and make an effort to focus on the relationships that have the most meaning to you and then figure out ways to maximize your time with those people.

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