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The benefits of having friends

Among children, attributes such as social competence, altruism, self-esteem and self-confidence have been found to be positively correlated to having friends (1).

Friends are also there to reduce the stress and challenging developmental experiences that we are faced with particularly during adolescence and early adulthood. They provide a safe ground for us to explore new areas, such as different personalities, mannerisms etc. This is because friends are supportive but are also capable of objectivity in order to prevent you from making a mistake. So friends are able to provide the social and emotional support necessary for successful transition into adulthood (2).   

Ellen Gold author of the article ‘Benefits of Social Interactions’, further argues that having friends and socialising is particularly important in modern society, because today’s households have become very small (3). As a result, we no longer have the benefit of having multiple siblings (or cousins) to offer support. Also it is more common today for people to move to other places for work, education etc. Thus support and exchange is usually laid upon the friendships we commit to.

Also, research focusing on the relationship between social networks and psychological support found that individuals classified as having psychiatric problems tend to have limited contact and participation in social networks such as friendships. They have also observed that such individuals tend to rely heavily on family members for support (4). A possible reason explaining why having very few or no friends is linked to psychological problems could perhaps be that limited contact and participation in friendship networks means that stressful experiences such as loss of a loved one are endured single-handedly. This is because, “Sharing with friends helps multiply the joys and divide the sorrows” (5).

The assumption that people cope better when they have someone providing emotional and social support is further emphasised by a study by Brown and his colleagues. They found that among women who had experienced stressful life events, those without someone to talk to were ten times more likely to be depressed than those who had someone to confide in (6).  Brown and colleagues also found that lack of social networks and low self-esteem were risk factors for latter depression, particularly in the event of stressful experiences (7).

Lastly, researchers investigating the benefits of socialising argue that participation in social networks such as friendships enhances cognitive abilities (8). The argument is that even simple conversations among social acquaintances require us to be attentive, maintain good memory of the topic being discussed and know when and what to reply. The researchers argue that when we engage in these activities regularly, we unconsciously engage in mental exercise resulting in improvement of our cognitive abilities.  This finding is particularly important because, many researchers believe that high levels of cognitive functioning are implicated in the prevention of dementia.

It appears so far that having friends and socialising with others is important for well-being. Some theorists however argue that it important for people to commit to social networks outside the family. This is because having social networks separate from the family means that we can seek comfort and support in other equally rewarding networks, when life becomes difficult. (9).

References
(1). Hartup, W. W., & Stevens, N. (1997). Friends and Adaptation in the Life Course. Psychological Bulletin, 121, 355-370.

(2). Pahl, R. (2000). On Friendship: Themes for the 21st Century Series. Polite Press

(3). Significance of socialising and social networks Gold, E. (1999) Benefits of Social Interactions from
http://www.valueoptions.com/april06_newsletter/benefits_of_social_interactions.htm

(4). Philips, L. S. (1981). Network Characteristics Related to the Well-being of Normals: A comparative Base. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 7, 117-123.

(5). Significance of socialising and social networks Gold, E. (1999) Benefits of Social Interactions from
http://www.valueoptions.com/april06_newsletter/benefits_of_social_interactions.htm

(6). Haworth, J. & Hart, G. (2007). Well-Being: Individual, Community and Social Perspectives. New York, N.Y., Palgrave Macmillan.

(7). Prince, J. M., Harwood, H. R., Blizard, A. R., Thomas, A., & Mann, A. H. (1997). Social Support Deficits, Loneliness and Life Events as Risk Factors for Depression in Old Age. The Gospel Oak Project IV. Psychological Medicine, 27, 323-332.

(8). Ybarre, O., Burnstein, E., Winkielman, P., Keller, C., Manis, M., Chan, E., & Rodriguez, J. (2008). Mental Exercising Through Simple Socialising: Social Interaction Promotes General Cognitive Functioning. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 248-259.

(9). Philips, L. S. (1981). Network Characteristics Related to the Well-being of Normals: A comparative Base. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 7, 117-123.
 

 
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