If your life fell apart today, who are the first three women you’d call? Kind of an odd question, but one that can make us take stock of our support system.
In other words, will you have the friends you need when you need them the most? Whether you find yourself facing a difficult decision, suddenly alone and lonely, looking for a career change or celebrating a great milestone, having friends by your side makes the tough times easier and the good times even better.
Creating and sustaining friendships, however, takes energy and commitment. Friendships don’t just happen or nurture themselves. Being intentional about making and keeping friends is key to long-lasting relationships that bring us the heart-to-heart connection most women desire.
Research shows that female friendship is good for our health. When women are around other women they enjoy, their bodies release the hormone oxytocin, which combats stress and creates calm, according to a landmark UCLA study. The more friends we have, the less likely we are to develop health issues and the more easily we recover after the death of a partner, according to the Harvard Medical School Nurses’ Health Study. And women with friends are 26 percent less likely to develop dementia, according to an article in the American Journal of Public Health.
Friends fill us with a sense of well-being. When nurtured, our friends serve as a sounding board, weather vane and guiding light. They know what brings us joy and can read our mood just by the tone of our voice or the expression on our face. Somehow, they know just what it takes to renew our spirit.
One of the keys to deep friendship is to remember that when a friend is in need, it’s not about us. Listen to your friend’s upset or dilemma with the big picture in mind. When you set your mind to understand, support and not judge, you can keep your emotions at bay. She may need sound advice or could be just looking for a sounding board. If you listen for what will serve her best, you’ll know just how to respond. Give her feedback from a place of love and understanding, not your personal will or desire. This kind of encouragement is an art that you can perfect over time. And, it’s one that will enhance and deepen your connection with all of your relationships.
If you have a bounty of women you’re close to in your life, consider yourself fortunate and celebrate them. If you want to increase your friendship quotient, be present to opportunities. If you meet someone at a business meeting, a social gathering or even at your local coffee shop and you think you have a connection, hand her your card, swap emails or get her phone number. And then, most importantly, reach out and set a time and place to get together — be it for a cup of tea, a meal, a walk or some other fun adventure. She could just be your next soul sister.
Diane Lofgren is the chief marketing officer for Sharp HealthCare and is the author of nine books on topics from raising children to female friendship.