“In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. They keep the young out of mischief; they comfort and aid the old in their weakness, and they incite those in the prime of life to noble deeds.” ~Aristotle
Driving late at night, you are tired and looking for a place to rest. The words flash on the sign of the small motel letting you know not to stop, to keep driving. No Vacancy. Hard for younger folks to imagine not being able to phone ahead, but there was a time many of us remember, without cell phones and internet reservations, when you simply drove from one sign to the next, in hopes that “No” would not be flashing. Imagine the sheer exhaustion, though, that meets a tired traveler when the words “No Vacancy” face them at stop after stop. Tired and ready to close their eyes, any place that offers an opening, a safe place to rest their head, is a welcome sight. Life is always available for lessons, and in the sign that flashes “Vacancy” or “No Vacancy” we can learn a lot about people’s hearts.
For the weary traveler of life, finding a heart with a vacancy offers hope, much like the vacancy at the motel offers. Unfortunately, there are often no vacancies in the hearts of people we might choose as friends. People are busy, and friendship requires time. No time, no vacancy.
Someone asks you to meet for a cup of coffee or to spend an evening playing Charades with a group, and you hesitate. You have so much going on, and spending time with people, possibly cultivating relationships, is more than you had planned to do in your hours away from work. Anyway, past experience has shown you that friendships can dissolve, so why invest the time?
What if you knew, though, that growing a few friendships could bring real value to your life and benefit your health? What if you knew that some people become reclusive and even homeless because they feel like they don’t fit and have no friends? Either scenario might be enough to get you to reconsider your stance on friendships.
Starting with young friends, who Aristotle says keep each other from mischief, we see that friends provide opportunities to learn social cues and rules of play, while in teen years they provide opportunities to contend with peer pressure. Young boys speak of their friends with the same affection girls do, but as teenagers they keep a safe distance with being just ‘buddies’.
As men age, and especially in their senior years, the value of friendships is recognized as very important to longer, healthier lives. In fact, most men interviewed in the book Buddy System by Geoffrey Greif admit that they enjoy and need friends. We women, though often pictured as rich with friends, actually report much difficulty in establishing close, intimate friendships.
The numbers are impressive when it comes to seeing the value of friendships and should be enough to cause each of us to want to make time for a few friends in our lives:
- If your best friend eats healthily, you are five times more likely to have a healthy diet yourself. (Rath)
- Married people say friendship is more than five times as important as physical intimacy within marriage. (Rath)
- Those who say they have no real friends at work have only a one in 12 chance of feeling engaged in their job. (Rath)
- In a six-year study of 736 middle-age Swedish men, attachment to a single person didn’t appear to affect the risk of heart attack and fatal coronary heart disease, but having friendships did.
- My personal favorite–in a 10-year study of adults over the age of 70, those with a large group of friends were less likely to die during the time of the study. In other words, it wasn’t the relationship with their family that seemed to be of greatest benefit, but having friends, even if the individuals faced health crises, was a more meaningful factor in determining longevity.
How does the importance of friendship apply to you?
- If you are the person afraid of friendships, perhaps you might decide that taking time for that cup of coffee with one person or walking on the Greenway with a group is worth the risk of the perceived loss of time. If giving up a quiet moment today means living a year longer down the road, maybe we should venture into the world of spending time laughing with others. Past experiences don’t have to color your view of future relationships.
- If you are the person who is hungry for friendship and just looking for an opening, go gently and don’t press for big commitments or demand to be the best friend. Just extend a hand and remember to not take it personally if others still aren’t ready.
As parents, we should encourage healthy friendships for our children. As adults, we should allow time for friendships for ourselves. No matter where we find ourselves, each of us can start right now, today, and find a way to incite someone to noble deeds, to comfort and aid someone in their weakness, to keep someone out of mischief, and especially to be a sure refuge to the weary traveler who crosses our path.