Our third lesson from the beloved children’s show Sesame Street is “Friends Matter”. Take a look at this video clip:
In the video, the late James Gandolfini, best known for his role as crime boss Tony Soprano in HBO’s The Sopranos, offers little Zoe a hug to comfort her when she’s startled by a loud noise.
James then confesses to Zoe that he gets scared, too. He’s scared of the dark, but his night light and teddy bear make him feel better; he’s scared of haircuts, but the barber gives him a lollipop and puts him at ease; and he’s scared of giant talking vegetables (who can blame him there?). When a giant talking broccoli arrives on the scene, Zoe gives James a hug – as any good friend would do – and he feels better.
Why does James feel better? Because he had a friend with him. This simple story illustrates that when you’re afraid, a good friend can lift your spirits and make you feel better.
For adults, the same concept holds true. We may think that grownups aren’t afraid of as much as kids are. But if you really take time to think about it, adults can be just as fearful (if not more so!) than kids. Hey, if Tony Soprano can admit it, you can too.
What are you afraid of? And I’m not talking about spiders or snakes here. Think of it this way: What do you worry about?
- Losing your job
- Illness or death
- Getting older
- Losing a loved one
- Your kids getting hurt, not succeeding, not having friends, etc.
- Becoming victimized
- Never finding love again after divorce
- Being alone
Any of these sound familiar? See, you do you have fears! And that’s okay, because as Sesame Street and movies like Disney Pixar’s Toy Story brilliantly illustrate, having friends you can count on nearby can be hugely instrumental in helping you get past your fears and through trying times.
If you’ve ever been through a tough time (and who hasn’t been?), you know this to be true. Who was there to pick you up when you were recovering from surgery or illness, or when someone close to you died, or when you got fired from your job, or when you got divorced? Chances are, caring friends were there. Perhaps they came to your home and sat with you. Maybe they took you out for a fun evening or invited you over for dinner. Maybe they sent cards or flowers, or called you to check up on you, watched your kids for you, or just listened. That’s what good friends do, if you let them into your life. And it makes you feel better, doesn’t it?
Day-to-day, friends are there to give us a laugh, let us know they’re thinking of us, and help us feel special and good about ourselves. To borrow a phrase, good friends are like chicken soup for the soul.
Friends truly are a necessity in our lives. Especially in our fast-paced, work-driven, self-absorbed society, it’s crucial to have friends (and to be one, too!), Furthermore, the benefits of friendship go beyond just a good feeling and a warm relationship.
Recent scientific studies have shown the benefits of social engagement. According to an Australian longevity study that followed about 1,500 older people for 10 years, those who had a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by 22%. (source: WebMD) The Stanford Center on Longevity found that, along with healthy living and financial security, social engagement was central to a person’s well-being through the aging process.
Specifically, the benefits of social connection include:
- Lowering stress
- Lessening anxiety
- Reducing depression
- Greater happiness
- Longer lifespan
- Better chance of cancer recovery
- Better overall health
- Higher self-esteem and self-confidence
The explanations for these positive outcomes were that good friends tend to discourage unhealthy behaviors such as smoking or heavy drinking, and that companionship from friends boosts positive feelings and helps ward off depression and anxiety, which are linked to poor physical and emotional health.
It’s important to note that in the Australian study, children and close relatives had almost no effect on longevity. So before you dismiss this lesson because “my family are my best friends,” sorry, those don’t count the same way. Of course, relatives are important, but you need friends outside of your family network as well because they bring different ways of relating – and less baggage – to your encounters.
Are you an introvert? Don’t worry! You don’t have to be with your friends constantly; nor do you have to win any popularity contests. It’s quality over quantity here. In fact, some studies show that fewer close friends are actually better than many casual acquaintances – particularly for people in their 30s. (source: Elle)
You may worry that it’s difficult to make new friends later in life, as an empty nester or retiree. On the contrary, your social life can actually be incredibly active and fulfilling in mid-to-later life. Take a look at these tips for making new friends when you’re over 50.
Even if you’re in your 80s and 90s, without the ability to meet new people outside of your home easily, you can get in touch with community organizations that will match you with a younger person for weekly visits in your home or a designated meeting place. In such a scenario, the younger and older volunteer are both making a new friend, and both are fulfilling the socially desirable commitment to advance intergenerational dialogue.
The bottom line is, Friends Matter. You need friends in your life. So if you don’t have good friends, work at acquiring some. And if you do have them, spend time with them and let them know you appreciate them. And remember: to have friends you have to be a friend!