As I sat there on the edge of the hospital bed waiting, my sister stepped towards me and I rested my head against her shoulder. The pain was intense and I was exhausted. The syringe had been prepared and the epidural was about to be injected. Nurses gave strict instructions to sit perfectly still. My sister and I nodded in unison.
As I felt the pressure against my back, I also felt the nurse’s hands moving my sister away from me. My sister’s anxious voice became more and more distant. I felt a flash of anxiety. In the wink of an eye, a sweet soul stepped up to fill that void. My best friend was there to support me in my time of need. Debbie stayed with me through the labor and the birth of my son.
We met in a mother’s group a few years earlier. Her daughters and mine became fast friends as did she and I. We had enjoyed trips to the local amusement parks, numerous girls nights out, and a mini vacation or two. She was there when my sister became faint at the sight of that epidural needle being inserted in my spine. She was there two weeks later to assist with my daughter’s 4th birthday. She was there for me when I needed her.
Then life changed. Her family moved to Texas. Initially, we made phone calls to get the latest updates but, as time passed, we drifted apart.
Finding your tribe can be life changing. Friends add emotional connections that cannot be found in a life of solitude. Those connections are proving to be part of the equation of a happy life.
Finding Friends throughout Life
When we are children, we spend years exploring friendships. As adults, we become wrapped up in the many details of life like careers, marriage, and parenting. Friendships fall to the wayside and most of us accept that as part of adulthood. We don’t always choose to discard friends. It just happens.
The problem is our external life becomes busy and seldom allows for the three conditions that sociologists consider crucial to making close friends: close proximity to one another; repeated, unplanned interactions; and an environment that encourages people to relax, let their hair down, and confide in each other.
Laura L. Carstensen, the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity in California, found that people interact with fewer people as they approach midlife. I don’t think it’s because we need friends any less.
I think we become disenchanted with the reality of finding true friends. We’ve lived a bit and we know friends may move across the country, become too busy to invest time in our friendship, or betray our friendship. So why would we invest our time and energy into finding friends? We need to because they add value to our lives we won’t find elsewhere.
The Value of Friends
As far back as the classical period in history and through the test of time, society has understood the importance of friendship. Great philosophers weighed in on the subject repeatedly. According to Aristotle:
“In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. The young they keep out of mischief; to the old, they are a comfort and aid in their weakness, and those in the prime of life, they incite to noble deeds.”
Throughout life, the benefits of friendship are many. Here are 5 reasons to join a tribe of friends:
- Increase your level of happiness
- Reduce your stress level
- Lead to a healthier lifestyle
- Provide a sense of belonging that prevents loneliness
- Increase your sense of self-worth & purpose
A University of Michigan study has identified a possible reason for all these benefits. Feeling emotionally close to a friend increases levels of the hormone progesterone, helping to boost well-being and reduce anxiety and stress.
“Many of the hormones involved in bonding and helping behavior lead to reductions in stress and anxiety in both humans and other animals. Now we see that higher levels of progesterone may be part of the underlying physiological basis for these effects,” states Stephanie Brown, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine.
Finding Friends in Midlife
Here we are in midlife where the sociologists say we don’t have conditions that are conducive to making friends and the psychologists say we need them for our well-being. What’s a woman to do? Here are a some ways to improve your chances of finding your crew.
Volunteer in an activity you enjoy. This increases the chances of finding others who enjoy the same activity and you’ll meet frequently in a relaxed environment.
Take classes in your community. Interested in learning how to knit? Want to learn how to use that new camera? Sign up for a class.
Check out groups on Meetup. There are a wide range of groups available so pick one that peaks your interest.
The opportunities for finding friends are there. Your happiness & well-being depend on you making this a priority. So tell me, where will you scout out your new tribe?