WHAT IT MEANS: Good friends can keep you from dying earlier, possibly because friends can be good influences for healthy behaviors—helping us to stop smoking and encouraging us to exercise. Friends also can help us counteract depression, cope with the loss of a spouse, and keep us from becoming isolated as we age, write the authors. “There’s lots of research indicating that social support is important to health and happiness at any age,” says Gibbs. But, she adds, you need to focus both on the quantity and on the quality of your friendships (the latter of which her study didn’t address). “Numbers might be especially important when you get to be older, because you start to lose your friends, but friendships serve different functions—help, altruism, empathy. You have to be sure that all those things are being met with your friendships.”
Having good friends requires being a good friend. Here are several ways to develop and maintain long-lasting relationships:
• Make time for them. Like any other relationship, you have to commit time and effort to maintain friendships. After you meet with a friend, follow up a few days later to make your next lunch date.
• Get in touch and keep in touch. Studies have found that friends who touch base at least a few times a month, even for a short phone call, are more likely to maintain contact a year later.
• Remember, Facebook-only friends don’t count. “If you’ve got 150 online friends, you don’t have the time to develop close intimate relationships with them,” says Gibbs.
• Judge not. “It’s important not to be too demanding,” says Gibbs. We all have our failings, she says. If a friend does something to upset you, talk it out rather than let it fester into a friendship breaker.