A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out. 

        Walter Winchell

Friendship means different things to different people. We all have unique relationships with the people around us and friends are often found in the most peculiar of places. There are hundreds of anecdotes online where friendships have formed through bizarre means – quite literally running into each other, bonding over shared obscure names or discovering a shared love of Hispanic dance music. Every friendship has a different dynamic, as if often evident when friends from different social circles meet. These different dynamics are rich and valuable for everyone involved and crucial to have in order to better understand others.

These friendships have huge benefits for those who find them. Some of the most prominent effects are those gained through the increased sociability. Recent studies have shown that those who are socially engaged and visit friends and family are happier, especially as they age. There’s also evidence that friendship can increase willpower, encourage people to love healthier lifestyles and even boost the resilience of the immune system.

But also the intimacy of friendship, the feeling that somebody truly cares for you, cannot be understated. The phrase ‘a burden shared is a burden halved’ holds true. Researchers at the University of California have found that sharing experiences and emotions about issues that cause stress and anxiety causing reductions in these stress levels. Friends are vitally important at difficult times in people’s lives. The ability of a friend to offer sympathy and empathy has important positive effects. A series of interviews with parents who had lost children demonstrated that those who felt supported by friends or family were significantly better able to cope with grief. The most welcome forms of support were simply being physically present, listening, and offering sympathy, encouragement, and practical help. Often it is these small things that have a huge impact. Making a tiny but thoughtful effort can mean the world to those on its receiving end.

So what should a friend be? First and foremost good friends are open, genuine and honest with each other and always show respect. These are the friends who are most valued by others. Providing others with social support and a judgement-free confidant adds to your own happiness as well as the reciprocated care. Quite simply, it feels good to help others. This also encourages more benevolence in future, creating infectious happiness that benefits everyone involved.  

In contrast, loneliness has a long list of negative effects. In the earlier example, isolation compounded the negative aspects of the interviewees’ lives and drowned out their positivity. We must be careful to avoid taking for granted our support networks and the friends and family that support us. Perhaps we should all thank those who make our lives better more often than we do, and to consider those who do not have such a luxury. We ought to feel a sense of duty to watch out for people we know as well as those we don’t, a social friendship if you will. Not all of these relationships will be like the friend you’ve known since you were six, or the friend who makes you cry with laughter but if they focus on a mutually beneficial, supportive and caring relationship, all will make the world a better place.  

So whilst friendship means different things to different people, it’s clear that a friendship can mean something to everyone.