The Benefits of Friendship – Happy Friendship Day
“Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.” Aristotle
Friendships’ Day is upon us once again. Bands will be exchanged, hugs will be received, messages and graphics will blow up phones…most phones.
Ever so often you will find a child with empty wrists, all alone, with a silent phone. The odd one, the last to be picked on the team, the Black Sheep. For the longest time, that child was me.
Who are your closest friends? What makes them a friend?
To me, a friend is someone who
- Finds the time to make memories with you,
- Is there for you through thick and thin,
- Will listen when you need them to, and
- Knows how to make you smile, especially when you need it most.
When I was younger, I had no one to check these boxes. All throughout my school years, I found it difficult to make friends. I was the Black Sheep of every lot.
At my very first school – Beacon High, Hong Kong – I loved playing Doctors and Nurses with a girl named Isobel. We would take turns lying on the play-bed and use stethoscopes to check each other’s heartbeat.
But when playtime ended, Isobel would leave the room outside which she treated me like a stranger. I would see her in the canteen at break-time and would attempt to say ‘hello’; but she never acknowledged me before her friends.
I began to believe I was unworthy not only of being publicly identified as a friend but also of actually being a friend. This was my earliest experience with friendship, where I felt rejected and shunned from being accepted into the group.
To make matters worse, my mother applied coconut oil in my hair. The stench of the oil earned earned me the nickname “stinky”. The colour of my skin didn’t help either; I became acustomed to racial slurs like “Paki” from a young age and feeling isolated was the norm for me.
After Hong Kong, I somehow survived a few years of schooling in India before ending up in Mill Hill School, London. Here, making friends was more tortuous than ever. Despite it being a private school of good standing, many illicit activities went on in the dark lanes bordering the playground walls.
Moreover, I was not accustomed to drinking or taking drugs, which was social custom. In an atmosphere where interests that were unfamiliar to me were the norm, I found it impossible to fit in.
After London, I attended an all-girls boarding in Brighton. I was left to share a bedroom with girls more unpopular than I, for no one volunteered to room with us. No matter the situation, I was the odd one out – only worthy of befriending the other “nerds” and misfits.
So, being given the label of “castaway nerd”, I thought I’d might as well live up to it. Instead of making friends, I immersed myself in academics.
It was at University that, for the very first time, I was able to make friends. Being in an environment of intellectualism, I found that my fears of being judged or abandoned had been unfounded, and I felt more at ease to make friends.
I made my first ever friends – Becky and Bill. I felt safe in their company.
Working on my PhD at Oxford, I met a French co-worker named ‘Christine’. Spending time together in the same laboratory, we got to know each other. Our common passion was food. We would eat together in the canteen during lunch, and later, Christine would drop me home in her car and I would cook dinner for the both of us. Both of us were at ease with each other and were able to share our innermost thoughts, hopes, and desires.
I currently live the life of a gypsy, travelling from place-to-place, giving seminars and talks throughout the year. For this reason, I’ve never been able to keep up a long-term friendship. But even though I can count the number of close friends I have on one hand, I do cherish them.
My mother is at the top of my list and my best friend. She has listened to me without judgement and loved me unconditionally.
In my formative years, I was not lucky enough to call someone a ‘true friend’. I was the curly-haired studious one who sat in the corner of the study room. The other kids only spoke to me when there was homework to be copied.
Having finally been exposed to the magic that is friendship, I now realise how imperative such companionship is for an individual to grow.
Research indicates that having friends is good for health and a long life:
- Reduce Stress: Harvard Medical School professes that strong friendships help reduce stress. This helps improve gut function, regulate insulin, and strengthen the immune system (1).
- Reduces risk of Premature death: One study examined data from over 3,09,000 individuals. It found that friendship reduced the risk of premature death from all causes by a third (2).
- Provide a positive influence: Researcher James Fowler noted that people are inspired by their friends’ positive characteristics. We tend to imbibe and fully absorb what we like about our pals into our own person (2).
- Improves well-being: In his TEDx talk on the impact of friendship on happiness, Mike Duffy explains how friends mentor, bring out talents, and improve wellbeing (3).
And my experiences back up all of these claims.
Becky was the first friend I ever had who made me feel comfortable being myself.
Bill and I bonded over all things unconventional and intellectual. We found amusement in little peculiarities, like observing people on trains, going to the theatre, or discussing philosophy.
Because I didn’t have a car at the time, Christine would drive me from college to the student accommodation. Often, I would cook for her; we’d chat endlessly over the meal. She was by my side through thick and thin. She taught me the power of loyalty and companionship.
I cherish these memories and these individuals, and I am most thankful for having had them in my life.
It can be difficult to make friends. Yet, it is not impossible. Take my word for it.
Dr Rangana Rupavi Choudhuri (PhD) is a dynamic international speaker and trainer. She loves being able to share alternate therapy and coaching skills that enable real and rapid transformations. With a PhD in Cancer Research and her background in running a multi-billion dollar international business, she is currently the Founder of Vitality Living College. http://vitalitylivingcollege.info/about-us/our-founder/